Hard work goes into making the Golden Leaf a tradition

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It takes hard work to establish tradition and the Golden Leaf Invitational high school baseball tournament is no exception.

Conceived in 2014 by head coaches Jon Smith of Hunt and Buck Edmundson of Fike, the Golden Leaf was designed to bring back the tradition of a high school baseball tournament at Fleming Stadium over Easter break. 

The sixth edition of the three-day tournament starts Saturday with 17 teams playing 27 games at four locations — Fleming Stadium, Fike’s Gilbert Ferrell Field, Hunt’s Sid Boyette Field and Farmville Central High. Besides Hunt, Fike and Farmville Central, teams competing in the sixth Golden Leaf are C.B. Aycock, East Wake, Fayetteville Freedom Christian, Jamestown Ragsdale, Nash Central, North Johnston, Northern Nash, Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons, Rocky Mount, Rocky Mount Faith Christian, Rosewood, South Granville, West Johnston and Wilmington Eastern Christian Homeschool. All teams will play three games.

As usual, the tournament format uses, in order, won-loss record, combined won-loss record of opponents and runs against. Awards given at the conclusion of the tournament will be the James R. “Rabbit” Fulghum Most Valuable Player, Earl Boykin Outstanding Pitcher and Lee S. Gliarmis Sportsmanship as well as all-tournament and academic all-tournament honors.

Smith said that this year scheduling, which Edmundson handles, was an ongoing process all the way up to earlier this week. Trying to put together such an event can be an ordeal throughout the winter and early season. Trying to rearrange schedules after the season has begun is even more trying.

“It’s hard to make everybody happy,” Smith said.

But by the time the tournament is over, everyone usually is full of praise for the Invitational.

“The coaches have a lot of good things to say,” Smith said. “It’ll be interesting this year because we’ve tried to accommodate everybody but it’s impossible to please everyone.”

But he assured that the work involved — from scheduling to groundskeeping to staffing to coaching and playing — is well worth it.

“The benefits for us and Fike are huge,” Smith said. “No. 1, to stay home and play and No. 2, the financial benefit for both programs.”

There may be an added benefit this year with Easter falling so late on the calendar. For many of the teams involved, the regular season will be over or only a few games will be left before the postseason begins. Thus, playing three tournament games will serve as a last-minute tune-up for teams with playoff aspirations.

“It’s got a little bit of a playoff feel to it when you play teams you don’t know anything about,” Smith said.

For his Warriors, who are tied for second with Rocky Mount in the 3-A Big East Conference, that would be both of their first two opponents — South Granville on Saturday and first-time Invitational participant West Johnston on Monday.

Fike opens against 4-A Cap 7 Conference member Cardinal Gibbons and then takes on another 4-A team in Metro Conference member Ragsdale on Monday. The Demons finish against South Granville on Tuesday.

West Johnston leads the 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference standings by two games over East Wake while Fike just wrapped up the 3-A Big East title. Nash Central just handed North Johnston its first loss of the season to take the lead in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference and Rosewood has won the 1-A Carolina Conference crown.

So expect to see some good baseball played at Fleming, Fike, Hunt and Farmville Central over the next few days. But, as Smith points out, the best thing is just seeing baseball played in Wilson over the Easter break. 

“Honestly, my favorite thing about it is just being able to go out to the school or Fleming and seeing people, either former players or coaches that fraternity of baseball folks and just talking baseball,” he said. “And my second favorite thing is looking at the forecast and not seeing any rain!”

The good news for Smith and everyone else looking forward to seeing some baseball comes in the weather forecast. Friday’s severe storms are expected to give way to spectacular spring weather and just a slight chance of rain Saturday and even better weather Monday and Tuesday. Smith pointed out that heavy rain Friday could cause the starting times for games at Fike, Hunt and Farmville Central to be moved back Saturday; however, with a tarp on the infield at Fleming, he expects games to start on time.