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The immense respect for head coach Gilbert Ferrell and assistant coach Ted Perry had not dimmed.
Both both coaches would readily tell anybody that you play with whoever shows.
Thus, 50 years later, the Cyclones coaches found the lineup for the 1968 North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4-A championship Fike High baseball team somewhat altered when players assembled last Thursday — first at Fike’s Gilbert Ferrell Field and later at Pup’s Steakhouse — for the 50th-year reunion.
Available were shortstop Lynn Daniell, third baseman David Dildy, first baseman Kenny Pridgen, pitcher-outfielder John Wooten, outfielder Harold Davis, infielder George Wilkerson, infielder Butch Boyette, catcher Branch Benton, first baseman Glenn Batten, pitcher-infielder Lonnie Lamm, outfielder John Gillette and managers Mickey Bridgers and John Pike.
They ascended upon Wilson from such locations as Williamsburg, Virginia; Richmond, Virginia; North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Wake Forest, Wilmington, Kinston and Rocky Mount. Wooten, Benton, Davis and Boyette still reside in Wilson.
Not in attendance were Harold Wlkerson, Larry Barnes, John Such, Gray Gaskins, Doug Cayton, Mike Foster, Tom Lafferty, Charles Holley and manager Wayne Carpenter.
Superstar pitcher-outfielder Bobby Johnston and promising underclassman pitcher Clark Davis are deceased.
WISH IT WAS 5TH TIME
“This has been great,” commented George Wilkerson. “I just wish this had been the fifth time we’ve gotten together instead of the first.”
None of the players expressed the desire to go seven innings, but George Wilkerson appeared fit enough to take the field.
Wilkerson acknowledged he not only works daily but also works out.
Wooten was within earshot and he promptly approached Wilkerson and, grinning, he said: “I don’t work and I certainly don’t work out.”
When the players were introduced before Thursday night’s Fike-Northern Nash game, Dildy amused teammates and onlookers when he chugged (50-years-later version of running) onto the diamond. Dildy had a reason.
“Coach Ferrell told me a long time ago to never walk on his field,” he explained.
Dildy literally hit his way into the lineup during the championship series. He proudly displayed a clip from his freshman year that noted he not only sprained his ankle but raised his batting average to over .700 before being hurt.
“I could hit,” Dildy confidently noted. “I did get into a slump — but not for long.”
No doubt, he his way out of it.
GOOD FOOD, RELAXATION
The honored 14 (including coaches and managers) didn’t waste any time helping themselves to the Pup’s Steakhouse hors d’oeuvres. The mood was relaxed; the players mingled and the stories soon flowed.
Those in attendance were considerate of teammates who were not present to “defend themselves.”
No one could remember the 1968 record — but they all proudly assured they will never forget the “big picture.”
According to published reports, the Cyclones posted a 16-4 record in finishing second behind Wilmington New Hanover in the 4-A Eastern Conference, defeating Winston-Salem Reynolds in the opening round of the playoffs, ousting Greensboro Grimsley in the semifinals and seizing two of three games from High Point Central in the championship series.
The championship series was drama-filled, especially considering Fike lost the opener with High Point being the venue.
The Cyclones plated a run in the bottom of the seventh inning to emerge state champions by a 3-2 margin in game 3.
But Lamm, bubbling with excitement, hailed the semifinal contest against Grimsley as “the greatest baseball game ever played.”
Lamm, who was the losing pitcher in working in relief of Johnston in the first game, elaborated upon Fike’s 1-0 semifinal triumph — when Johnston hurled a no-hitter and Grimsley’s pitcher, a 6-foot-4 right-hander who signed with Auburn University, allowed just one hit.
Puzzled Fike players could not remember who collected the Cyclones’ hit.
Well, Wooten did step up and chirp: “It must have been me!”
Lamm was accurate in that Johnston, who continued his career at Atlantic Christian (now Barton) College, hurled a no-hitter.
Again, published reports indicated the Cyclones triumphed 2-0, not 1-0. And Fike managed four hits — two by Such and one each by Gaskins and Barnes. Wooten hit a sacrifice fly.
Lamm eagerly recapped the playoffs.
We destroyed (15-2) Winston-Salem Reynolds,” he declared. “Grimsley had beaten New Hanover. They had a big right-hander and we knew he would be bringing heat. But we knew we had a big left-hander that was 6-4, and he could have signed with the Padres. We also had a great hitting team. That’s the best ball game I’ve ever seen.
“There was one hit (actually four) in that game; that’s a pretty special high school game. Two aces were going at it; they hooked up — dog-eat-dog. I had never seen anything like that, or since.”
GAME 1 RELIEVER
But in the opening game of the championship series, Lamm found himself on the mound in relief of Johnston with the score tied 1-1.
The right-hander with the big curve ball allowed four runs in four innings and took the loss.
“We kicked it around a little and I gave up a home run,” Lamm recounted. “I felt terrible. I was in and there’s nothing you can do but do the best you can do. I didn’t care whether I was the winning or losing pitcher; I didn’t want us to lose the game.”
Lamm’s account of what he experienced upon throwing the first pitch was priceless.
He laughed and continued: “When I threw that first pitch, I could see 40 major league scouts (following Johnston) get up and go down the exits. I guess they had somewhere else to go. They knew they weren’t going to see anything from me.”
But Lamm refused to be discouraged about Fike’s state-championship chances. Wooten’s pitching and home runs from Daniell and Pridgen propelled the Cyclones to a 5-2 victory and to game 3. Rain resulted in an extra day’s rest for the High Point pitcher as well as Johnston.
The Cyclones knew Johnston would be back on the mound and contended Lamm: “If he’s on, we’ve got a shot. We’ve got a shot against the Yankees if he’s on.”
Lamm was back in the bullpen for the championship game.
With the score knotted 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Wooten reached first base on an infield hit. Ferrell promptly sent in Harold Davis to pinch run for Wooten.
Davis commented he was later told that Fike broadcaster Buddy Bedgood reacted: “Everybody in the stadium knows what he’s going to do.”
Regardless, Davis immediately stole second base. Dildy slapped a slow grounder toward third base. The High Point third baseman bobbled, then inadvertently kicked the baseball. Bison players did not chase down the ball. Davis, a speedster, never broke stride as he rounded third base — and scored.
George Wilkerson, who was coaching third base, did not attempt to stop Davis.
“Not as fast as he was,” Wilkerson explained. “He never stopped; he was really fast.”
How about Lamm’s version of what unfolded.
“I remember jumping up and seeing arms (of Fike players) up in the air (motioning Davis to home plate). The guys were coming off the bench. The game’s over! We’re state champs!”
“I wasn’t much of a player, but I played with a bunch of great ballplayers.”
Wilkerson proclaimed the Cyclones as “true state champions” in the same school year the football team won the first of three successive 4-A titles. Wilkerson was a sophomore on both teams.
BACK TO WILSON
Completing the “big picture” was the trip back to Wilson.
The players recollected a huge Fike following for the championship series.
Upon arriving in Wilson — as remembered by Lamm — fans and well-wishers lined the streets in huge numbers. A police caravan accompanied the team the final miles. Sirens blared and lights flashed.
“It was an amazing time in the city,” Lamm clamored.
Wilkerson is adamant in his belief that the championship baseball team was not slighted or overlooked by the remarkable football title run.
“Football got more publicity because they won three in a row,” Wilkerson reasoned. “But we were appreciated and got the attention we deserved. We played some really good baseball and we were part of a big baseball town.”
Wilkerson’s “true state champion” reference stemmed from the fact only one state champion was declared in a division during the Cyclones era while, now, the NCHSAA recognizes eight state football champions annually.
KUDOS TO FERRELL FAMILY
The informal, fun-filled reunion resulted because of the generosity and desire to honor a special group of Patsy Ferrell, Gilbert Ferrell’s sister, and Coach Ferrell’s children — Leigh, Bert and Tricia. The players repeatedly expressed their thanks and chatted with Coach Ferrell’s wife, Sue.
“Great!” was Coach Ferrell’s description.
“I feel like those that came enjoyed it. I really found it surprising what guys remember about certain situations. They told me stuff that I never thought about or remembered.
“The situation at the ball field was as nice as it could be. Nobody had to sit down and listen to a long lecture. It was informative and I was delighted to be there.”
Surrounded by family members, Ferrell struggled with his emotions upon his entrance at Pup’s.
He spoke of “a lot of close games” and informed his players: “What’s so great to me is to know that you have gone on and done so well with your lives. Or you wouldn’t be here tonight.”
Don Kirkman, Leigh’s husband, joked that he almost decided to not attend upon learning the Cyclones conquered High Point Central in the state-championship series. Kirkman is a 1973 High Point Central graduate.
But as Miller Robins, Coach Ferrell’s grandson, reflected: “It’s not often you win a state championship and then get to celebrate it 50 years later.”