Fike’s Hunter Stokely (19) signals to teammate Justice Lynn to not slide as he comes into score in the bottom of the fifth inning of Tuesday’s Golden Leaf Invitational game against Cardinal Gibbons at Fike. The Golden Demons rally from a six-run deficit came up short in their 7-5 loss but they hope their 2-1 showing in the Golden Leaf will serve as a springboard to the end of the 3-A Big East Conference season.
Paul Durham | Times
Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons players celebrate their 2017 Golden Leaf Invitational championship Tuesday after defeating Fike 7-5 for the title at Fike’s Gilbert Ferrell Field.
Paul Durham | Times
Senior Noah Campbell of Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons was presented the James R. “Rabbit” Fulghum Most Valuable Player Award after the Crusaders defeated Fike 7-5 on Tuesday to win the Golden Leaf Invitational championship at Fike.
Paul Durham | Times
Southern Nash High junior Leroy Edwards was presented with the Golden Leaf Invitational’s Lee Gliarmis Sportsmanship Award by Fike head coach Buck Edmundson prior to the Firebirds’ game against Faith Christian on Tuesday at Fike.
Paul Durham | Times
Rocky Mount Faith Christian junior Alex Crosby was named the recipient of the Earl Boykin Outstanding Pitcher Award for the Golden Leaf Invitational that ended Tuesday, April 18.
When Fike High varsity baseball head coach Buck Edmundson delivered the towering Golden Leaf Invitational championship trophy to the Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons players and coaches after the Crusaders topped the Golden Demons 7-5 on Tuesday, he knew but for an extra timely hit or two, he could have made that presentation to his own players.
The Demons, who entered the three-day tournament with a 7-9 record, won their first two games and then fell behind 7-1 to Gibbons after three innings Tuesday. But Fike, with senior Dwight Daniels throwing four innings of one-hit relief, battled back. The Demons, who gave up five runs in the first inning, even loaded the bases in the sixth inning but couldn’t get any of the runners home.
“We’ve lost about five or six games that could have gone either way and the ball just didn’t roll our way,” Edmundson said.
While a moral victory doesn’t count in the standings, the effort was appreciated by Edmundson.
“It just showed our guys that we can play with anybody,” he said. “I think Cardinal Gibbons is ranked No. 4 in the state.”
The Crusaders are actually No. 5 in the MaxPreps rankings for all teams and No. 3 among 4-A teams.
Now, Edmundson and the Demons hope their tournament performance will springboard them into the final week of the 3-A Big East season and possibly into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs.
“I felt like this weekend we really came out and competed well and I just hope we keep this intensity going into next week,” he said.
Fike will host Northern Nash on Tuesday, April 25 for Senior Night and then end the regular season Thursday, April 27 at archrival and Big East-unbeaten Hunt.
Edmundson said he hopes his players will use that Golden Leaf experience for another more important tournament in two weeks — the Big East tourney — to get an automatic state playoff bid. Or the very least, reach 12 wins and move into contention for a wild-card spot.
“We played 20 great innings of baseball and just had one bad inning,” he said of Fike’s Golden Leaf performance. “We’re just shooting to win the conference tournament since that’s our best chance to get in.”
While there’s still room for discussion about the best way to determine a champion in a tournament with a round-robin format that produces multiple teams with 3-0 records, it’s hard to argue that Cardinal Gibbons wasn’t the best team in the field.
The Crusaders, who lead their 4-A PAC 6 Conference, defeated C.B. Aycock, Northern Nash and Fike to improve to 14-1. Tournament MVP Noah Campbell is headed to the University of South Carolina while senior pitcher Pete Bloomberg, the winner Saturday against Aycock, has signed with Davidson College.
“Gibbons, on paper and on the field, is probably the best team,” said Hunt head coach Jon Smith, who co-founded the Golden Leaf Invitational with Edmundson.
Edmundson said he expected the Crusaders of head coach Jim Liebler to be tough, pointing out the Demons upset them in the third round of the state 3-A playoffs two years ago.
Cardinal Gibbons batted .310 over its three games in Wilson and posted a team ERA of 4.71. More importantly, the Crusaders only made three errors for a .986 fielding percentage.
Edmundson that Liebler asked him before Tuesday’s game how the championship would be determined and Edmundson told him “the winner of this game will win the tournament based on who they’ve played.”
Certainly Rocky Mount Faith Christian played well enough to win it as the Patriots only gave up one run in three games. However, Gibbons’ opponents finished 5-4 in the tourney while Faith Christian’s opponents compiled a 3-6 record. Nash Central and Rosewood also went 3-0 but the Bulldogs and Golden Eagles had opponents each going 2-7.
Liebler and his players were certainly thrilled to get the nearly 3-foot tall Golden Leaf Invitational championship trophy as well as having the opportunity to play three games in Wilson.
“He was very nice and very appreciative and had a lot of nice things to say about Wilson and all the facilities,” Edmundson said.
The biggest award for the tournament, however, goes to whoever was in charge of the weather. With rain falling in Wilson on all three days of the tournament, the only delay came Saturday morning before the first games were played. After waiting out an unexpected shower and getting the fields ready, there was just a 90-minute delay. That was erased later when the Faith Christian-Kinston Parrott Academy game, originally set for 5:30 p.m. in Fleming Stadium, was moved to Hunt’s Sid Boyette Field.
“The first goal was to get all the games in the best you can. We had to alter the schedule to get all the games in,” Smith said.
With thunderstorms in the forecast for Monday night, game times were moved up. Wilson Christian played a major role in agreeing to host its game with Rocky Mount Academy, allowing the Hunt-North Johnston game to start at 5 p.m., instead of 8 p.m. No more than 30 minutes after the Warriors and Panthers exited the field at Fleming, the skies opened up.
“I think we were really fortunate getting those games in Monday,” Edmundson said. “Trying to plan around weather is always an issue.”
While Cardinal Gibbons’ Campbell was named the winner of the Golden Leaf’s James R. “Rabbit” Fulghum Most Valuable Player Award, Faith Christian’s Alex Crosby landed the Earl Boykin Outstanding Pitcher Award and Southern Nash’s Leroy Edwards received the Lee Gliarmis Sportsmanship Award.
Crosby, a junior, picked up the Boykin Award for his one-hit shutout of Southern Nash in the Patriots’ 3-0 win Tuesday. Crosby played for Hunt last year before transferring to Faith Christian.
Edwards was an easy choice for the Gliarmis Award given his upbeat attitude, hustle and outstanding play. He might have made the defensive play of the tournament in the Firebirds’ win over North Johnston on Saturday. Edwards, who was born with just two fingers on his left hand, deftly switches the glove from under his arm to his right hand in the field. His speed at doing so was never more evident than when the Panthers’ Cameron Evans smashed a line drive back at Edwards on the mound. Without missing a beat, Edwards had his gloved right hand up and made the catch, to the applause of the crowd.
In addition to the individual awards, 44 players from the 18 teams were named to the all-tournament team while each team’s player with the highest cumulative GPA was named to the Golden Leaf All-Academic team.
After the fourth incarnation of the Golden Leaf, both Smith and Edmundson said that the event, with 27 games played on three days on four fields, has become a little easier to run.
C.B. Aycock veteran head coach Charles Davis was quick to praise both of his colleagues.
“First and foremost I commend them for putting on a first-class Easter tournament,” Davis said. “I know how much work is involved.”
Both Smith and Edmundson were quick to credit the dozens of volunteers that made the fourth Golden Leaf Invitational a success.
“It’s getting a little smoother,” Smith said. “It don’t matter how many teams we have, if we don’t have parents and family friends to step up, there’s no way we can do it.”
Edmundson echoed Smith’s sentiments, saying: “I know Hunt parents as well as our Fike parents and Jon and I couldn’t do what we do without some help running the concessions and the gates. Parents and volunteers and former players on break coming around helping.”
Smith also pointed out: “The (Wilson) Recreation Department at Fleming was awesome.”
Smith said there’s always room for improvement and that one thing that has been discussed is moving from the round-robin format to a bracket. Of course, with so many teams, there would have to be multiple championships.
With all but Cardinal Gibbons and the Raleigh Homeschool Hawks coming from Wilson or surrounding counties, this year’s Golden Leaf had more of a local flavor. However, Smith said that teams previously participating in the Golden Leaf were only unable to come because of conflicting spring breaks. He said that, schedules permitting, teams such as West Carteret, Jamestown Ragsdale, Madison Sun Valley and Southwest Guilford would return for future installments.
“Something we haven’t done is have some teams come from out of state and that was one thing we wanted to do from the beginning,” Smith said.
One thing that won’t change is having Fleming Stadium as the centerpiece of the Golden Leaf.
“It’s a lot of work but I think it’s worth it,” Edmundson said. “Having access to Fleming Stadium is probably the best part.
“I think it’s a draw for some of these teams to come to Wilson and get to play in such a unique facility.”