Crusaders are Golden

Cardinal Gibbons holds off Fike 7-5 for Golden Leaf title

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On Tuesday afternoon, the Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons High baseball team was rewarded with its first Golden Leaf Invitational championship after defeating its three opponents in the three-day, 18-team competition.

The Crusaders of the 4-A Pac-6 Conference also went 3-0 last April, but were not declared the champions.

But in Tuesday’s lone showdown of unbeatens at Fike High’s Gilbert Ferrell Field, Cardinal Gibbons hung on for a 7-5 triumph against Fike of the 3-A Big East Conference and emerged the champion over Rosewood, Nash Central and Rocky Mount Faith Christian, who also wound up 3-0. The Crusaders’ tourney opponents possessed a 5-4 combined record, giving them the title over Faith Christian, which had an opponents’ record of 3-6 despite the Eagles giving up just one run in three games.

Cardinal Gibbons pounced on starting Fike pitcher Jaelyn Melton, a junior right-hander, to build a 7-1 lead but was limited to one hit the last four innings by Golden Demons senior right-hander Dwight Daniels.

The Demons not only chopped the deficit to 7-5 but left the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth. Senior right-hander J.P. Roque then pitched a hitless, scoreless final inning to seal the championship.

The Crusaders also conquered 3-A Charles B. Aycock 3-1 and 3-A Northern Nash 7-6 en route to the title.

“We just know we won all three of our games,” commented Cardinal Gibbons head coach Jim Liebler. “If we were able to do that against good teams, it makes it all the better. We won three games in four days and winning three games is never easy.”

The Crusaders departed with a 14-1 record, while Fike, coming off victories against archrival Hunt and 2016 Golden Leaf winner Oakwood School of Greenville, slipped to 9-10.

Cardinal Gibbons senior shortstop Noah Campbell, who has signed with the University of South Carolina, was proclaimed the winner of the James R. “Rabbit” Fulghum Most Valuable Player Award for the tournament. Along with playing sensational defense and attracting major league scouts, Campbell collected six hits in 11 at-bats for a .556 average.

“Being the MVP feels great,” Campbell assured, “but it feels better to get the championship. We came here to win it.”

In need of a spark, Fike found it in unexpected fashion, stole the momentum and nearly erased the six-run deficit.

The Demons loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth inning on sophomore right fielder Myles Cyrus’ single and two walks. With one out, Daniels’ base hit drove in two runs and left Fike trailing 7-3.

On the play, Daniels attempted to stretch his hit into a double. He was easily thrown out at second base and, upon arriving, bumped senior Cardinal Gibbons second baseman Eric Farley, who stumbled backwards and threatened to retaliate.

The Demons came to life and struck for two more runs in the fifth — when they chased Cardinal Gibbons starting junior right-hander Michael Smith, who struggled with his control. Two walks set the stage for senior Fike second baseman Tucker Robbins’ two-run single against submarining right-handed Crusaders reliever Kyle Tobolino, a senior.

“I tried to give us some spark,” Daniels declared, “but it didn’t work out too good. I should have slid (at second base).”

Fike head coach Buck Edmundson also pointed out the Demons would have had base runners at first and third with one out if Daniels had not attempted to reach second and been thrown out.

“I should have stayed at first base,” Daniels admitted, “we might have come back and won.”

However, Edmundson cited the Crusaders’ five-run first inning — when junior center fielder Nick Brassington and junior first baseman Michael Burns each doubled and Campbell and Roque each singled. Melton also issued two walks, one with the bases loaded.

“It’s hard to beat a team like them when you give up five runs in the first inning,” Edmundson said. “I thought there was a play or two we could have made. But that crowd can really swing the bats and they came out hitting the ball. The top of their order is really tough. But I was proud of the way we kept chipping away.”

With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Fike loaded the bases on two walks and freshman catcher Hunter Stokely’s single. But on the first pitch, Tubolino induced junior outfielder Justice Lynn into an inning-ending bouncer to Campbell.

“We had the game won — that’s what I thought,” Daniels remarked of the sixth-inning threat. “I was proud of the way we fought the last two innings, but we’ve got to come out better in the first couple of innings.”

Added Edmundson: “We came out and played well, but we need wins. We have to fight, scratch and claw our way into the playoffs. We need to win.”

The Crusaders’ Liebring said he was about out of pitching options when he summoned Roque from third base to the mound in the bottom of the seventh.

Assessed Campbell: “We started out pretty well and got it going. But we let them stay around and they made it interesting. They’re a good team and we knew they weren’t going to stay down. But we got the win and that’s all that matters.”

This time, 3-0 was good enough.

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