Fly like an eagle: baseball off to best start ever

Published 11:45 am Thursday, April 11, 2019

We have more amazing accomplishments for Davie’s varsity baseball team.

• When the War Eagles won game one over Glenn, it was 5-0 in the Central Piedmont Conference for the first time in 20 years. Mike Herndon’s 1999 team started 5-0 before sliding to 7-3 and settling for a shared regular-season title with South Stokes.

• When they edged Southeast Guilford, their 14-1 record represented the best mark through 15 games in Davie’s 63-year history.

• When the War Eagles topped Glenn in game two, they achieved their longest CPC winning streak (six) in eight years. The 6-0 league record is their greatest CPC start in 28 years. Dave Hunt’s 1991 team started 10-0 before claiming first outright at 13-1.

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At Glenn on April 2, Carson Whisenhunt and Justin Chaffin combined for 15 strikeouts and Anthony Azar pushed his hitting streak to 12 games – the longest in eight years. Carson Herndon had a 17-gamer in 2011.

The Bobcats, coming off a 10-6, 5-4 sweep of East Forsyth, could not cool off the War Eagles, who won 7-1. Glenn fell to 8-4 and 2-3 in the CPC.

Whisenhunt was a game-time decision on the mound after twisting his ankle in pregame warmups. He battled through the injury to throw four innings, allowing two hits, one unearned run and striking out 10 to offset five walks. He left with the win to improve to 5-0 with an 0.25 ERA. He has 60 strikeouts and eight hits allowed in 27.1 innings.

“Before the game we didn’t think Carson was going to be able to pitch,” coach Bradley Rudisill said. “He stepped in a hole in the outfield and twisted his ankle. Aaron (Williams) gave him an ankle brace. He said he didn’t have his best velocity, but his ball was moving like crazy. That movement had a lot to do with the swing-and-miss outing he had, and it also led to some of those walks. Aaron would set up down the middle and his ball would run all over the place. He was getting tired (in the fifth) and his foot was starting to bother him. He had a hit and barely made it to first base. I would call it a very gutsy performance, because I know how much pain he was in.”

Davie took command in the third. After Azar singled, Garrett Chandler scored the game’s first run on a passed ball. Williams and Whisenhunt followed with run-scoring hits. Williams’ was a double to opposite field in right after he had fouled off several pitches. When the dust cleared, Davie had a comfortable 3-0 lead.

“Aaron’s just a complete ballplayer, from behind the plate to his ability to handle the pitching staff to his ability to hit when he’s behind in the count,” Rudisill said.

Davie padded the margin in the fourth and fifth. Williams and Joe Johnson both went 3 for 4, with Johnson rapping two doubles to make him 5 for 7 across two games.

“Joe’s seeing the ball really well since the first game against West Forsyth,” he said. “In his first at-bat against Glenn, he hit an absolute missile to the shortstop (for an infield hit). Then he went back to back with doubles off the fence in the air – and that’s not a small ballpark.”

After Whisenhunt left the mound, Rudisill got out-of-his-mind relief work from Chaffin, who allowed one base runner in three innings. He walked one and fanned five. He earned his first save in his fifth relief effort and sustained his 0.00 ERA, having allowed one unearned run in 9.1 innings.

“He doesn’t throw it 90 miles an hour, but he’s able to keep guys offbalance and make good pitches,” he said. “He was cruising. After the sixth, he said: ‘Coach, I want the seventh.’ As a coach, that’s the type of guy you want. He doesn’t do anything special, but he does a lot of things really, really well.”

•••

Johnson and Grayson Keaton delivered tying and go-ahead hits in the sixth, respectively, and John Davenport, Troy Clary and Azar pitched their butts off as Davie gutted out a 4-3 win at Southeast Guilford on April 3.

Even though it was a nonconference game, this was no small thing. The Falcons went 22-6 in 2015, 22-6 in 2016, 24-5 in 2017 and 24-4 in 2018. At 9-4 overall, they are 7-0 in the Mid-Piedmont 3-A Conference this year.

Whisenhunt (2-3) and Williams (2-4) banged two hits each and Davie rallied late to overcome a tough pitcher. Brandon Wallace walked none and struck out 10 in a complete game.

“The kid on the mound was doing a really good job,” Rudisill said. “We went into (the sixth) saying: ‘We’re eliminating the breaking ball and the changeup. When we get a fastball, be on time.’”

The real fun began in the sixth, when Davie faced a 2-1 deficit. Azar lined a single to left to extend his hit streak to 13. One pitch later, Williams roped a single to left. Azar scored the tying run on Johnson’s single to left.

Then it was time for Keaton, who entered as a pinch-hitter. A victim of a wrist injury, he was 1 for 6 on the year. The senior fell behind 0-2 before coming through with a ground-ball single past the first baseman to give Davie a 3-2 lead.

“I’ve been watching Keaton since he came back from his injury, and he’s steadily gotten better,” Rudisill said. “He had a big hit at Glenn. He’s the type of hitter who’s not going to strike out a lot, and in that situation we needed a ball in play. (Wallace) went off the plate with a fastball; it was a good 0-2 pitch. Grayson just threw his hands and barrelled it up just enough to get it through the infield.”

On the sixth pitch of Jacob Campbell’s at-bat, Johnson scored an insurance run on a two-out passed ball. Davie had a 4-2 lead.

Azar’s huge impact out of the bullpen was evident again in the sixth after the Falcons put runners on second and third with one out. A single plated one of Azar’s inherited runners to make it 4-3, and runners were again at second and third. But Southeast botched a suicide squeeze attempt and Williams easily tagged out the runner. Then Azar got the next man looking at strike three.

Azar got the save in a stress-free seventh, sandwiching strikeouts around a grounder to second baseman Campbell.

Davenport, who struck out seven in three innings as the starter, got a no-decision to remain 2-0. He faced a bases-loaded, no-out  mess but minimized the damage. “That was huge,” Rudisill said.

Clary got the win by going 2.1 innings. “He was able to silence their bats for a while,” he said.

Three of Azar’s five outs were strikeouts, giving him 12 Ks in 7.1 innings. He only needed 24 pitches to close the door. “He had 30 pitches to get five outs,” Rudisill said. “I said: ‘Figure it out.’”

•••

Even though the final was 7-3 over visiting Glenn on April 4, it wasn’t a drama-free CPC clash. Davie had to scrap for its 15th win in 16 tries. The Bobcats scored one in the fourth and two in the fifth to slice Davie’s lead to 4-3.

“We were a heart attack waiting to happen,” Rudisill said. “Their lineup is very solid all the way around. They made a run and we were able to shut it down with minimal damage.”

Williams has been huge at the plate all year – he’s hit safely in 14 of 16 games – but he’s also been deadly behind the plate. Glenn got a leadoff walk in the sixth when it was 4-3, but Williams threw him out trying to steal second.

In the bottom of the sixth, Davie gained separation with a clutch knock from Campbell. With one out, Johnson singled to center and Michael Shelton walked, ending the night for Glenn ace Duncan Howard, who walked two and fanned seven. The stage was set for Campbell, who was hitless in the three previous games. He rose to the occasion with a line-drive single over the first baseman. Johnson scored easily and Shelton scored on an error in right field. When Hunter Bowles singled sharply up the middle, Davie had the 7-3 cushion.

“Jacob had a huge at-bat,” Rudisill said. “I don’t want to say he pitched bad (in relief), but he kind of redeemed himself at the plate. He had a great at-bat (at SE Guilford) that went 9 or 10 pitches. He struck out, but he’s been putting together good at-bats. He’s a very smart hitter.”

Spencer Nifong permitted just two hits in 4.1 innings to get the win. Although that matched his shortest stint in six starts, he improved to 5-0 with a 1.36 ERA. Campbell, seeing his first mound action in 15 days, worked around four walks in 1.1 scoreless innings.

And then the transfer phenom from Bishop McGuinness, Azar, finished it off with four outs in 13 pitches. It was the third save for Azar, who singled in the third to keep his hit streak going at 14.

“Azar’s ability to command the zone with all his pitches makes him a really valuable asset,” Rudisill said.

Notes: Campbell (2-3) was the only War Eagle with multiple hits in game two against Glenn (8-5, 2-4). … How about these sizzling numbers? Davie is hitting .316 to go with a 1.16 ERA. … The top averages belong to Whisenhunt (.390), Williams (.384), Azar (.361), Johnson (.352), Chandler (.333) and Bowles (.323). “I still don’t think the lineup has hit to its full potential yet,” Rudisill said. … Davie and Reagan entered the week tied for first at 6-0. West Forsyth (3-3) is third.