’56 baseball team one of the best

Published 11:14 am Thursday, January 24, 2019

It’s been more than 60 years since the Mocksville High baseball team of 1956 finished second in the state in 1-A, but its magical run to runner-up has not been matched in the NCHSAA playoffs.

Coach Bill Peeler’s 1956 Wildcats went 22-6. After a lengthy stint in the Western North Carolina Activities Association from 1956-77, Davie rejoined the NCHSAA in the fall of 1977. Only two teams have won more games than ‘56 Mocksville: The 1993 War Eagles went 23-5 and reached the final four, and the 2006 squad went 24-4 and made the quarterfinals. The 2011 War Eagles finished 22-3. That’s the short list of baseball teams in Davie County to achieve 22 or more wins.

Peeler’s 1956 roster included seniors “Lefty” Kenneth Howell, Billy Sell, Jimmy Kelly, Alton Sheek and Henry Shutt; juniors Mackie Deadmon and Dickie Nail; sophomores HT Meroney, Lester “Poogie” Allen, ZN Anderson, Darwin Allen, Otis Snow and Walker Stickney; and freshman Joe Anderson.

Davie County’s world has changed a lot since then. There were four high schools, including Shady Grove, Farmington and Cooleemee. All four were Class 1-A members. Mocksville was a part of the Davie-Forsyth Conference, which included Kernersville, Clemmons, Lewisville and South Fork. The Mocksville school was a three-story building on N. Main St., beside the Brock Auditorium. It held grades 1-12, with a senior class of 62.

The end of the 1955-56 school year marked the end of an era. The next fall, grades 9-12 from Mocksville, Shady Grove, Farmington and Cooleemee came together at Davie County Consolidated High School.

With one high school looming on the horizon, the Wildcats carried the Mocksville banner one last time, and they did so with an astounding run. In the playoffs, they toppled King, West Yadkin, Stoneville and Dallas, vaulting them to the finals against Red Springs. The championship round, like the previous three rounds, was a best-of-3 series. Mocksville seized game one before dropping the next two. The end was bittersweet.

“We finished next to first,” Darwin Allen said with a chuckle in 2006. “It was disappointing (to finish second), but when you look back on it over time, it was something to be proud of, too.”

Sell: “I think back to those days a lot. Ball was all I lived for. The older you get the more you think about your high-school days.”

Howell put up remarkable pitching numbers, going 11-2 and making the Charlotte Observer’s all-state second team. The southpaw was among three 1-A players selected. The other workhorse hurler was Sell (9-4). Meroney got spot duty, winning the other two games. Their batterymate was D. Allen, who played catcher for two years at N.C. State.

The infield saw Shutt at first, Anderson at second, Deadmon at shortstop and L. Allen at third. Anderson earned a scholarship to North Carolina. Sheek anchored the outfield in center. Nail, Kelly and Snow rotated in left and right.

Mocksville was Peeler’s first job as a teacher/coach. He led Mocksville baseball for two years, going 35-8. He went on to have a legendary career at Davie, including 445 wins in girls basketball.

When Mocksville visited Kernersville, both teams were 4-0 in the conference. Mocksville pulled out a classic 2-1 win. Not only did Howell pitch a one-hitter, he doubled home the tiebreaking run in the sixth. Shutt stole second before coming home. Sheek and L. Allen had two hits each in Kernersville’s first loss in four years.

Clemmons spoiled Mocksville’s 6-0 conference record with a 4-3 upset. That set up a winner-take-all spectacle between Mocksville and Kernersville on the final day of the regular season at Rich Park.

Howell and Co. did it again, winning 3-1. Howell posted his 13th straight win over two years, tossing a two-hitter with 10 strikeouts and zero walks. Mocksville closed the regular season 14-2 overall and 7-1 in the league.

In the first round of the playoffs, Mocksville ripped apart King 8-1. Howell worked five stress-free inning, and Sell, who was dominant with his knuckleball, threw two hitless innings. The offense was led by Anderson (two hits) and Deadmon (two-run double).

The rest of the playoffs were best-of-3 series. After losing game one to both West Yadkin and Stoneville, the Wildcats pulled out the second and third games both times.

Sell was brilliant in game two against visiting W. Yadkin, striking out 13 in a two-hit shutout. Anderson (3-3), Snow (2-4) and Sheek (2-4) powered the 8-0 win. In game three against W. Yadkin at Rich Park, Mocksville squeezed out a 4-2 decision with just two hits, both from Sheek.

In game one against visiting Stoneville, Mocksville erased a 1-0 deficit in the fifth. Snow’s single set the table, Nail’s single tied it,  and Howell helped himself with a go-ahead hit. But Mocksville suffered a 4-2 heartbreaker on a two-run triple in the seventh.

But the Wildcats shook it off and tightroped to the next round. Game two was an exhilarating pitchers’ duel that Mocksville survived 2-0. Sell (two-hitter, 12 Ks) and Stoneville’s Jimmy Crotts (five-hitter, 14 Ks) had bats flailing at air all night. Sheek (2-4) and Anderson played small ball in the first. Sheek stole home, and when the pitch rolled to the backstop, Anderson scampered across the plate for a 2-0 lead that never changed.

Stoneville made serious noise in the seventh, putting two on with no outs. Sell snuffed out the rally with two strikeouts wrapped around a sparkling play by shortstop Deadmon, who fielded a ball in the hole and fired to third for a forceout.

The Wildcats climbed on Deadmon’s shoulders in game three, and he carried them to a 3-1 win. The No. 2 batter homered and drove in all three runs.

Next was the Western final against Dallas. The opener is among the wildest games ever witnessed at Rich Park. Sell pitched all 10 innings of an emotional 9-8 win, striking out 11, walking one and knocking in two runs. He outdueled highly-regarded Joe Wooten, who also went the distance. L. Allen went 3-6, including a 10th-inning triple off the center-field wall. He scored the winning run on D. Allen’s grounder to first. D. Allen and Anderson had two RBIs each.

With two chartered buses cheering on Mocksville at Dallas, the Wildcats completed the sweep and were crowned Western champions after a 3-1 win. Howell threw a beauty (three-hitter, 14 Ks) and Deadmon had two hits as Mocksville overcame Wooten’s 11 Ks.

Meanwhile, Red Springs celebrated a stunning 2-0 sweep over Gaylord Perry of Williamston, the 1955 state champion. Perry was a sophomore who carried a 13-1 record into game two. Red Springs drilled the future Major League Hall of Famer 12-1.

Mocksville traveled 127 miles to Robeson County to take on Red Springs in the state championship series.

“I certainly wouldn’t make myself out to be an integral part of the team, but I was on it and it was a lot of fun,” Meroney said. “ZN had a ‘55 Ford and they put a big banner around that thing. They had a grass infield. None of us had ever been in that part of the state. We thought we were going to a foreign country.”

Game one started at 4 o’clock and Mocksville walked on sunshine. Howell put his 10-2 record against Bill Merritt’s 10-0 mark, and Howell responded with a four-hitter that stirred a 7-3 win. Deadmon was his typical self with two hits.

The game was scoreless for three innings. The turning point was Mocksville’s four-run fourth, which included hits from Deadmon, Anderson, Nail and Snow.

“(Merritt) was smoking them in there,” Anderson said. “They were coming at you like aspirins.”

Mocksville was near the sport’s mountaintop. Red Springs, though, had other ideas, winning the next two games 18-8 and 8-4.

Game three was hard-fought. A sac fly by Sell tied it at 2. A Deadmon single gave Mocksville a 3-2 lead. Nail singled and Shutt walked in the fourth. Then a Kelly single provided a 4-2 lead.

With nine outs to go, the Wildcats were poised to win it all. Red Springs (19-9) broke their hearts with a five-run fifth. The mighty Merritt (11-1) appeared for the third time in three days and slammed the door.

“We were pretty down, for sure,” Deadmon said. “After winning the first game, we thought we could at least win one more.”

The old teammates have replayed the series over the years and wondered what if? What if the series had been held at Rich Park?

“That may have been the first time some of those kids ever spent the night in a hotel,” Peeler said.

Although the flameout still sticks in their craw, it might be a mistake to call Red Springs’ triumph an upset. You have to salute a team that featured Merritt, who played at Pembroke State before signing a pro contract; catcher Albert Baldwin, who played at UNC and led the ACC in homers; first baseman Jimmy Lancaster, who played at N.C. State and led the ACC in batting average; Russell Cotton, who played at Davidson and was voted team MVP; and shortstop Wayne Edwards, who was All-ACC at N.C. State.

“I think Red Springs was probably the better team,” Shutt said.

“Back in those days you never got any kind of award at the end, like most valuable player and most improved player,” Deadmon said. “I don’t think anybody ever got anything (in 1956). If you won (the state) they gave you something your wore on your chain, and we were already talking about putting that on our chains. That’s why we thought: ‘Boy, if we can win one more, we can get this thing to wear around our neck.’ And by George, we got beat the next two games.”

Sell pitched some at Duke. Anderson’s UNC career was cut short by a freshman injury. At N.C. State, D. Allen had the honor of catching Roman Gabriel, who would become a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback in the NFL.


Hall of Fame Night is Friday, Jan. 25 at Davie. Uly Grisette (Class of 1984), Kathy Grimes Januzelli (1964), Sean Stevens (2002) and Doug Illing (Davie football coach from 1998-2012) will be inducted, as well as the 1956 Mocksville baseball team. The 18th HOF class will be honored at 5 p.m. in the cafeteria and at midcourt between the girls and boys basketball games.


Illing is the winningest football coach in Davie County history. The late Jack Ward went 45-5 at Cooleemee from 1951-55 and 61-51-9 at Davie from 1956-67. His 17-year record was 106-56-9.

Illing set the new standard by going 127-66 in 15 years. He guided Davie to eight conference titles. His War Eagles reached the state quarterfinals in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006. They made the state semifinals in 2004. They made a miraculous run to the 4A state final in 2010. Davie went 18-10 in playoff games during the Illing era.