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KINSTON — The Wilson Christian Academy baseball team’s postseason plan to win a fourth state championship in the last six years ran into a snag along the way.
Wilmington Christian’s playoffs plan to dethrone Wilson Christian in 2019 unfolded to near perfection on a hot Saturday afternoon on Bethel Christian’s Sutton Field diamond.
Wilmington Christian reigns as the 2019 North Carolina Christian Schools Association 2-A state champion with a 5-1 victory against the Chargers in the expected showdown of the East Region’s top two teams.
The No. 2 Patriots, who lost 12-2 to WCA during the regular season in the clash to determine the No. 1 East Region seed, seized their first state title since 2013. Wilmington Christian finished with a 16-5 record, while the Chargers, who saw their winning streak snapped at 13 games, wound up 17-4.
Limited to a scratch hit through six innings, Wilmington Christian snapped a 1-1 tie with four runs in the top of the seventh.
Beginning with the first meeting vs. Wilson Christian, said jubilant head coach Donny Seals, the plan was to be certain the Patriots’ top two pitchers were going to handle mound duties in the championship game. Thus, Wilmington Christian’s No. 3 pitcher drew the starting assignment in the regular-season encounter.
“All along, we were committed to setting up our pitching for the state tournament,” Seals expressed. “Win or lose, our No. 3 was going to start that (regular-season game). The plan was to get to this game with our Nos. 1 and 2 fully rested.”
Senior right-hander Will Helms, the Patriots’ ace, shackled Wilson Christian on three hits through six innings. No. 2 Hayden Naylor, a freshman right-hander, was summoned in the seventh and he bailed himself out of a jam with a defensive gem.
No. 1 Wilson Christian’s intent was to counter with its ace, senior right-hander Brice Murray. However, the Chargers needed three innings from Murray in Friday’s semifinals win. Thus, he drew Saturday’s start burdened by a pitch count and exhausted his available pitches after stopping the Patriots on the scratch hit and an unearned run through five innings.
“Brice pitched his tail off,” commented Wilson Christian head coach Ty Bissett. “We had an opportunity to win the game; we were in it. They’re a great team, but we made too many mistakes early.”
The Chargers appeared to suffer a negative mood change after District 4 king Wilmington Christian erased the 1-0 deficit with the run in the fifth on two walks, two stolen bases, Naylor’s infield hit and a throwing error on the play that allowed junior shortstop Zane Bloom to score.
“You could say that,” expressed Chargers senior left fielder Bryce Hughes. “We started getting down on ourselves and blaming ourselves. We stayed with it, but I wish we could have done it a little longer.”
Wilmington Christian managed five hits and the Chargers, District 3 front-runners, were limited to three.
Wilson Christian plated an unearned run in the first. Senior center fielder Adrian DeHart reached on an error; junior second baseman Max Holland singled; and DeHart eventually touched home plate on a bases-loaded walk to Murray.
But danger signs surfaced in the first inning --- when the Chargers left the bases loaded. WCA opened the second with Hughes singling and junior third baseman Will Shearin drawing a walk. But the Chargers overlooked attempting a sacrifice bunt — and stranded base runners at second and third.
Chargers’ eighth-grader Seth Quinn relieved Murray in the sixth and pitched around a hit batsman. However, the right-hander was lifted after the Patriots’ Bryce Bordeaux and Trey Pierce opened the top of the seventh with singles.
“Seth did his job,” said Bissett.
But senior right-hander Zach Denmark and the defense struggled from there. Bloom greeted Denmark with a run-scoring double. Helms helped his cause with a sacrifice fly and junior catcher Zack Burk delivered an RBI single. On the play, the Chargers had an excellent opportunity to cut down the base runner at third. Instead, a wild throw produced another run.
The Chargers didn’t exit meekly in the bottom of the seventh.
Hughes was hit by a pitch and Shearin walked to start the inning against Naylor. Junior lead-off hitter Gabe Barnes put down a bunt between the pitchers’ mound and third base. However, the lunging Naylor grabbed the baseball and flipped it to third baseman Bryce Bordeaux to force Hughes. Naylor promptly retired the next two Chargers’ hitters to end the game — and the Chargers’ championship hopes.
“That got them going,” Hughes noted of Naylor’s gem. “That got them riled up and ready to go. We definitely could have won, but we needed to come out a little stronger.”
Of the play’s importance, Seals responded: “That was really big in shutting down any momentum they might build. We have been resilient and disciplined all year.”
Added Murray, who missed last season’s championship game because of an injury: “It’s heart-breaking. But we gave it all we had and have nothing to hang our heads about.
“I had faith in us the whole time; I had a strong feeling that we could come back. But they deserve it.”
However, Hughes admitted: “It’s tough — especially coming off a championship last year. It’s tough to have this good a team and not be able to get it done.”
Bissett hailed seniors Murray, Denmark, Hughes, Jackson Hoskins and DeHart for great careers, assuring: “We will reload and come back. Besides, where else would you want to be? A lot of teams would like to be second in the state.”
But not when the previous five years produced three state championships.
Score by innings:
Wilmington 000 010 4 — 5
Wilson 100 000 0 — 1
WP-Will Helms 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO. LP-Seth Quinn 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Wilmington Christian: Zane Bloom 1-2, 2B, 2 R, RBI; Zack Burk 1-3, RBI; Bryce Bordeaux 1-3, R; Trey Pierce 1-3, R; Haden Naylor 1-3, R; Wilson Christian:Bryce Hughes 1-1, Zach Denmark 1-3, Max Holland 1-4.