1977-79 Memorable For Davie High baseball

Published 10:14 am Thursday, August 6, 2015

The 1977-79 Davie baseball teams didn’t win any conference championships, but they reeled off three straight winning seasons – after suffering losing records in 1974-76 – and there were moments impossible to forget.

This is back when night games were rare. In ‘77, all Davie games began at 4 p.m. except a late-season 7:30 contest at East Rowan. Davie was a member of the North Piedmont 3-A Conference. If you did not claim first place, you did not advance to the postseason.

From 1974-76, the War Eagles went 8-10, 5-10 and 7-9. A new coach took the reigns in ‘77. Ken Boger was greeted with 16 returners.

“I’ve got guys on the team who are willing to eat some dirt to win ballgames, and I’m going to let them eat some,” Boger said then.

Davie’s home field at Rich Park featured lights back then, but night games didn’t come back around until the ‘82 season.

“Rich Park had lights, but they were in such poor condition that we didn’t play night ball then,” Boger, who lives in Mocksville, said recently. “Night ball didn’t come back until Legion ball was restarted (in ‘82). The lighting was so bad that we just quit playing night games.”

Bart Reece, a southpaw who pitched from 1976-79, said players would run through fire and a brick wall for Boger.

“I enjoyed the whole four years I played,” Reece, who lives in Advance, said. “I just had a blast playing. I would get hyped up for the games. I really liked Boger. He would really stand up for you. I mean he would argue calls. He was a good, fair coach. He really was.”

One of Reece’s most vivid memories of Boger was during a summer league game at South Iredell.

“I was batting and I think David Barnhardt was on first base,” he said. “The pitcher balked. He threw the pitch and I hit it. They weren’t making an effort to get the ball because the umpire called a balk. David came around and scored. The ump sent David back to second. Boger argued with him because he knew the rules. He said the offensive team has the option to take the balk or the result of the play. The umpire didn’t agree with that, so he threw Boger out of the game. Boger told me not to get in the batter’s box. I didn’t get in the box, so the ump called me out. Ken was a good guy. I always liked him. He devoted a lot of his time to it.”

Barnhardt, a senior in ‘79, loved playing for Boger and assistant Dave Hunt, who would take over the program in ‘80.

“Coach Boger was an excellent coach,” Barnhardt, who lives in Advance, said. “I’m telling you, those guys were great coaches.”

The ‘77 season began with an incredible pitchers’ duel at Mooresville. Reece tossed seven shutout innings in a 1-0 War Eagle victory, getting key defensive support from shortstop Jeff “Spanky” Pardue and first baseman Andy Beck.

Steve Boyce was a senior move-in from Colorado, and his impact was immediate. Batting third in the order, he launched a home run in the sixth for the game’s only run.

“Boyce came up with some big hits that year,” Ron Bivins, a ‘77 senior who lives in Cooleemee, said.

Davie was outhit 6-4, but it held on. Mooresville put the tying run aboard in the seventh, but second baseman Mark Howard turned a double play to nail it down.

The next game was another fierce battle, but this time the War Eagles fell short, losing 7-6 at North Davidson. With Davie trailing 6-5 in the seventh, Howard led off with a home run. In the last of the seventh, however, North squeezed in the clinching run.

Four games later, the War Eagles buried the defending NPC champion, North Rowan. Pardue (3 for 4), Craig Brown (3-5), Sid Short (two hits, four RBIs) and Howard (three RBIs) powered a 9-1 wipeout.

“That was the first game that I got to hit,” Pardue, who lives in Advance, said. “They had been DH-ing for me. Perry Ridenhour was the shortstop and he got hurt. I played shortstop the whole year, but North Rowan was the first game I hit, and then I got to hit every game after that.”

Reece threw a one-hitter in a 5-4 win over North Stanly. In the second, Stanly was able to generate four runs on three walks, an error and a bases-loaded triple. But Reece, who was almost always a control artist, responded with five no-hit innings.

The War Eagles rallied from down 4-1 to 4-4. In the fourth, they pushed across the winning run. Mark Jones opened with a single, Pardue put down a sac bunt and Short singled home Jones.

The War Eagles endured consecutive losses to West Rowan, East Rowan and North Iredell. They stopped the bleeding with wild, 10-inning, walk-off win over Mooresville. Reece, the ultimate workhorse, went all 10, along with contributing two hits. Short went 4 for 6.

Trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth, Boyce tripled and scored on a throwing error. Mooresville regained a 6-5 lead in the 10th. Then Davie staged an amazing rally in the last of the 10th. With two outs, Howard and Short had singles and Boyce walked to load the bases. Brown produced a two-run single to win it.

“(Brown, a catcher) was a stud,” Pardue said. “Craig was real quiet, but he would eat dirt. He was as tough as they come.”

In a 2-0 win over South Iredell, sophomore Randy Athey hurled six dominant innings without a walk and Reece picked up the save. In the third, Pardue opened the scoring with a triple, scampering home when the shortstop made a bad throw to third. In the fourth, Boyce walked, stole second, took third on the catcher’s throwing error and scored on a balk. Short and Pardue had two hits each.

The War Eagles coughed up a 4-0 lead in a 5-4 loss at West Iredell, but they made up for it by knocking off the first-place team (East Rowan) on the road, 9-4. Reece fanned 10 in a complete game. Beck had three hits and five RBIs as Davie wiped out a 3-0 deficit. Bivins, who swung a bat that glowed in the dark in ‘76 but struggled with an injury in ‘77, rediscovered his form with a 3-for-3 performance.

Bivins hit .425 as a ‘76 junior, but “my senior year I got hurt playing basketball in the conference finals at Catawba,” he said. “I had a slipped disc in my back and I didn’t get to practice or play for a month. You talk about something that hurt me – baseball was my sport and I couldn’t do anything. I made all-conference, but I think it was probably more due to the year before.”

In a 7-0 win over North Iredell, Athey shoved seven walk-free innings, Bivins went 3 for 3 with three RBIs and one of Ridenhour’s three hits was a home run.

After falling at South Iredell, the War Eagles salvaged a winning record (10-9 overall, 7-8 NPC) with a 6-5 win over West Iredell. Brown was the hero, hitting a tiebreaking homer in the fifth.

Howard, who owned the top batting average, Short, Brown, Bivins and Boyce were named to the All-NPC team.

The ‘78 team went 11-5, claimed second in the league and registered the most wins in six years.

“That was a very good team,” Barnhardt said. “We had Jeff Pardue at second. We had Tommy Amidon at shortstop. Bobby Smith was catching. And we had Jeff Cline in center field. They talk about you’ve got to be strong up the middle in baseball, and we were solid up the middle. We had some real studs my junior year.”

In a 5-0 win at West Rowan, freshman Scott Pratt pitched a two-hitter with eight strikeouts. He struck out 10 in a three-hitter at North Rowan, but Davie was held to four hits and lost 3-1.

Davie overcame a 5-2 deficit in a 6-5 home win over Salisbury. Brent Burton socked a two-run homer. Cline’s seventh-inning double gave Davie a walk-off win.

“Pratt got in a jam in the sixth or seventh inning,” Reece said. “I came in and the first guy I faced was their slugger, Coe Brier.”

Brier is the greatest power hitter in Rowan County Legion history. In the 1979-80 seasons, he blasted 39 homers and drove in 150 runs. After playing for Clemson in ‘81 and ‘82, he was drafted in the 23rd round by the Reds.

“Earlier in the game when Brier came to bat, he kicked some dirt and it blew in (catcher Bobby Smith’s) face,” Reece recalled. “Whenever Bobby came to bat, he grabbed a handful of dirt, rubbed it on the handle of the bat and it blew in Brier’s face.

“When Brier comes up the crowd is booing him and going crazy. I struck him out on three straight pitches and everybody is standing up and hollering. Well, the next guy comes up, a little guy that doesn’t weigh a hundred pounds, and he hits one in the ivy.”

“Brier threw hard,” Barnhardt said. “He would pitch when he wasn’t catching.”

Late in the season, Davie remained in second with a 3-1 win over West Rowan. Cline and Pardue had Davie’s only two hits during a three-run first. Reece threw a three-hitter with no walks and seven Ks.

At one point in the season, Reece was 4-1 with a (gulp) 1.20 ERA in 34 2/3 innings. At the same time, Pratt was a hard-luck 1-3 with a 2.10 ERA in 19 2/3.

Reece (pitcher), Pardue (second base) and Burton (third base) were named All-NPC.

The voters overlooked a guy who played one year at Davie, senior shortstop Tom Amidon. “Amidon was probably the best all-around ballplayer,” Boger said then.

Amidon would play three years at Duke, helping the Blue Devils to three winning seasons and a 62-34 record, although they were 11-22 in the ACC. In ‘80, Amidon hit .263 in 19 at-bats. In ‘81, he hit .267 in 71 at-bats with 21 runs and 15 walks. In ‘82, he hit .302 in 106 at-bats with 21 runs, three doubles, four homers, 16 RBIs and 13 walks.

Interestingly enough, Amidon is currently a cardiologist in Kalispell, Mt.

“Needless to say, he was a brilliant guy,” Boger said. “And an excellent baseball player.”

“He was a really smooth shortstop,” Reece said. “He had a lot of range.”

“Tommy played third base at Duke,” Barnhardt said. “He was the valedictorian, great basketball player and great baseball player.”

“I think he moved to Davie his senior year,” Johnny Miller, a senior in ‘78, said. “We played basketball together, and he played point guard. He was a good player. Now he is a renowned heart surgeon. He has written books.”

With 12 returners on the ‘79 club, the War Eagles achieved another winning season at 10-8, 9-7 – good for fifth in the nine-team NPC.

In a 5-1 win at East Davidson, Davie exploded for five runs in the top of the seventh. Todd Jones singled, but the big blow was Bobby Smith’s three-run double. Barnhardt had two hits. Reece enjoyed a ho-hum performance – a complete-game four-hitter.

In a 6-4 win over Trinity, Pratt gave up three hits and struck out nine in 6.2 innings, Ed Smith singled and homered,  and Reece had a two-run hit.

The offense went ice cold during three straight shutout losses, but Davie regained its mojo with wins over West Rowan (6-5), Trinity (5-0) and North Rowan (8-6). Against Trinity, Reece struck out 12 in a three-hitter and Barnhardt and Burton had two hits each. Against N. Rowan, Barnhardt (3-5), Kenny Hellard (2-3) and Burton (2-4, homer) did the heavy lifting.

Late in the season, the War Eagles suffered a tough 3-1 home loss to Salisbury. The Hornets broke a tie with two runs in the seventh. Reece lost despite striking out 10.

The War Eagles closed the ‘79 book with a scream-out-load moment, a 2-0 home win over first-place Asheboro.

Senior Barnhardt was the top hitter (.377), and he didn’t commit a single error at first base. Senior B. Smith was second at .286. Sophomore E. Smith and senior Burton had two homers apiece. Reece and third baseman Burton were selected All-NPC.

“Burton was a big-hitting third baseman,” Barnhardt said. “He had a real strong arm. Brent chose to go to North Carolina – he was real smart – but if he’d not chose to go to a school of that caliber, he would have played some Division-II ball for sure. He was real fast, real strong, good athlete.”

Reece and Pratt put up sparkling ERAs, but they were undermined by poor run support. Reece was 6-5 with a 1.36 ERA. He lost when throwing a pair of three-hitters. He threw a two-hitter and lost. Pratt was 4-3 with a 2.23 ERA.

“Bart just had a tremendous year. We just didn’t hit the ball consistently all year,” Boger said then.

“Pratt was good,” Reece said. “He threw a fork ball. You’ve got to have decent-sized hands to do that. The bottom would fall out of it.”

After going 31-22 in three years, Boger stepped down as coach. Hunt stepped in and lasted 17 years, leaving as the then-winningest coach in school history at 200-167 and bagging six conference titles in a span of seven years (1987-93).

The ‘79 War Eagles are never going to forget the way they closed the curtain, upsetting the league champ at Rich Park.

Reece wrote the defining chapter in his memorable career, throwing a one-hit shutout and upstaging Asheboro flamethrower Ron “Chub” Little.

It was a magical moment for Barnhardt. Little allowed two hits and Barnhardt had both of them. He also knocked in the game’s first run and scored the second run. How about that?

Little was all-state in ‘79. A few weeks later, he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. He spent seven years in the minor leagues, including three at Triple-A. In 715 professional games, he hit .263 in 2,337 at-bats.

“I remember Chub Little well,” Boger said. “That’s probably the only time we ever beat Chub.”

Earlier in the season at Asheboro, the War Eagles got drubbed 6-0 by Little and Co. Barnhardt did not blink against Chub in that one, either, getting two of Davie’s three hits.

“We really played poorly,” Barnhardt said. “I can still remember coach Boger saying: ‘You guys stunk it up.’ I remember that like it was yesterday.”

In the rematch at Rich Park, the only hit off Reece came on a sixth-inning bloop by the Blue Comets’ No. 9 batter. Reece went on to walk one and fan nine.

“It could have been a no-hitter if (shortstop) Kenny Hellard had gotten a good jump on the ball,” Reece said. “It was a little blooper in center field. I walked one guy, but I picked him off.

“Chub was 6-3 or 6-4 and he could hum it. I never was that fast. I had decent speed, but my (success) was with location and deception. I did have a good curveball and I didn’t walk many.”

With the game scoreless in the sixth, Reece led off with a walk. After a sac bunt, Barnhardt made it 1-0 with a double. Barnhardt advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on a throwing error by the catcher.

“Chub was a heck of a player and Asheboro was a really strong team,” Barnhardt said. “Asheboro was strong in football, basketball and baseball. They had two of the Moody boys – one on short and one on first. Chub threw the ball pretty hard. He and the boy from Salisbury (Brier) probably brought the strongest heat we ever saw.”

In two games vs. Little, Barnhardt went 4 for 6. The crucial double was to opposite field in right-center.

“I didn’t pull anything off Chub,” he said. “You were happy to make contact.”

Asheboro, which had clinched first with a game to spare, finished 13-3 in the NPC. Salisbury was 12-4, North Davidson 11-5, North Rowan 10-6, Davie 9-7, Thomasville 8-8, Lexington 4-12, West Rowan 4-12 and Trinity 1-15.

The War Eagles will carry to their graves the pride of beating a freight train in their final hour. Pardue said no one loved baseball more than Barnhardt.

“Bart was our ace, that’s for sure,” Barnhardt said. “Bart had a heck of a game. He would really rise to the occasion. When he felt a challenge, he really came through.”