Davie rallies again; wins CPC

Published 9:30 am Thursday, May 2, 2019

Just when you think it can’t get any crazier – two nights earlier, Davie’s baseball team scratched out two runs in the top of the seventh to stun Reagan 2-1 in the first of two meetings with the Central Piedmont Conference championship on the line – along comes another last at-bat rally that Davie will never, ever forget.

Leading 4-1 going into the bottom of the sixth, pitcher Danny Beal and the Raiders appeared to have done enough to prevail and capture the race by one game. Davie had other ideas.

The War Eagles produced eight runs in the sixth, won 9-5 over the visiting Raiders on April 25 before the largest crowd for the second-year home park and capped a storybook regular season.

In a winner-take-all showdown, the War Eagles (20-2 overall, 9-1 CPC) celebrated their first CPC title in seven years. The two-games-in-three-days sweep had moments that will remain etched in Davie minds for decades. Nine seconds into his postgame interview, Davie first-year coach Bradley Rudisill had a water cooler dumped on him. Senior Hunter Bowles circled the bases carrying a broom. Exuberant players hugged as commemorative T-shirts were handed out.

“That was freezing,” Rudisill said, drenched. “But I’ll take that any day. That felt good.”

Then: “They’re just fighters. They have never given up the whole season. We knew it was going to be very hard to sweep them. We just had the focus. We battled our way back against really good pitching. Reagan might have the best pitching that I’ve ever seen from a high-school team. To beat them twice is a testament to these guys and the work they’ve put in since day one.”

Davie, which overcame a 1-0 deficit in the top of the seventh at Reagan (18-4, 8-2), got on the board in the bottom of the first. Garrett Chandler and Anthony Azar had singles and Joe Johnson walked with two outs to load the bases. Then Chandler scored on a wild pitch.

Spencer Nifong cruised through three innings and induced  a routine grounder to the first batter in the Reagan fourth. But the throw was high and pulled Carson Whisenhunt off first, an error that would loom large later in the inning. With two outs, Reagan produced three runs on a hit by pitch, a double down the third-base line and a double to right-center.

Whisenhunt opened the Davie fourth with a sharp single to right, but he was stranded at third. Bowles reached on a strikeout/wild pitch in the fifth, but he was caught stealing on a 1-3-6 pickoff play.

Facing reliever Azar, Reagan executed a squeeze bunt to push its lead to 4-1 in the in the top of the sixth. Meanwhile, Davie’s offense was getting carved up by Beal, who had a three-hitter for five innings.

“He was mixing things up,” Rudisill said. “He had his breaking ball working and his fastball was probably mid-80s.”

But the War Eagles found a way, ripping out Reagan’s heart in the bottom of the sixth. They didn’t beat the Raiders with a sledgehammer; they methodically chopped them down with small-ball wizardry. The remarkable thing: The first six runs during the eight-run rally scored with one ball leaving the infield.

Azar got it going with a swinging bunt to the pitcher. Williams made the situation interesting with a bullet between short and third. The bases were loaded when Whisenhunt walked on four pitches. Reagan coach Gary Nail replaced Beal with CJ Boyd, who beaned Johnson with an 0-2 pitch to force in a run. Courtesy-runner Will Cheek scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-3. After Boyd got a strikeout for the first out, Troy Clary put down a squeeze bunt. Whisenhunt was called safe on a close play at the plate, and the game was tied 4-4. Jacob Campbell followed with another perfect squeeze bunt, this one resulting in a hit that put Davie in front 5-4.

Holy smokes.

“They executed and made plays, and that’s what you’ve got to do,” Nail told the Winston-Salem Journal. “You’ve got to tip your hat to them. (Beal) just ran out of gas. CJ threw well, but again, they executed the short game and had some well-placed bunts.”

“Our ability to get the bunts down in that situation was huge,” Rudisill said. “It’s not something we’ve had to do all year, but we’ve prepared for it. Every day I harp on doing the little things, and bunting is one of those things.”

With two outs, Chandler got jammed and hit a dribbler to second. He beat it out for a run-scoring hit, and a second run scored on a throwing error. Azar hit a missile to center. Aaron Williams smashed a double to deep left-center to make it 9-4.

The bottom of the sixth was a mind-bending, rub-your-eyes thing. Davie paraded 12 batters to the plate and got six hits, three infield hits, executed two squeeze plays and mixed in a walk and HBP.

“I just wanted to chip away and get something going,” Rudisill said.

After the first three Raiders reached in the top of the seventh, Azar recovered to retire the next three batters. Davie’s top three batters – Chandler (2-4), Azar (3-4) and Williams (2-3) – went a combined 7 for 11. Whisenhunt and Campbell added one hit each as Davie edged Reagan 9-8 in that category.

The season has turned into something special. The War Eagles achieved the sixth 20-win season in their history. The others: 23-5 in 1993, 24-4 in 2006, 20-9 in 2007, 22-3 in 2011 and 21-5 in 2012. It’s not just that they pulled off the sweep. It’s the way they did it, rallying in final at-bats and posting a snowman in the sixth at home against a team that was allowing 2.2 runs per game. This is the most runs Reagan, which strutted to four straight shutout wins earlier in the season, has given up in 26 games.

Rudisill tried to breathe normally again. “In fall workouts, I was busting their tails in the weight room, running up three and four flights of stairs and trying to instill that family atmosphere. This team is a family. I’m super happy for the seniors (Grayson Keaton, Campbell, Justin Chaffin, Bowles, Michael Shelton, Cheek, Will Sherrill, Whisenhunt and Victor Johnson). They’ve been through a lot with coach (Bobby) Byerly leaving and me not being able to come until Oct. 16. We lost most of the fall. I had eight school days to work with them in the fall.”

While Davie bathed in glory, the Raiders wore sullen faces in a huddle in right field. “I told our guys we’ve got to flush it,” Nail told the Journal. “It’s a tough loss. I feel sorry for my guys because I thought we played well.”

Notes

• Azar has been a major factor in Davie’s ascend to the top. Not only did he get three hits, he earned the win with three relief innings. He’s 3-1 while making 10 relief appearances with a 1.88 ERA. After attending Ellis, he spent two years at Bishop McGuinness. He transferred to Davie for his junior year. “I’m glad I came back,” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life. I went to Bishop but ended up wanting to come back to play baseball here. It’s really special. To be CPC champs is great. We’re a family; we love each other. We work together and that’s how we’re winning games.”

• Chandler has an eight-game hitting streak. … Williams has nine doubles, the most in four years. … Williams (.408) is the top hitter for a .323 attack. Next are Whisenhunt (.377), Chandler (.373), Azar (.362), Bowles (.358) and Johnson (.338). … Nifong got a no-decision to remain 5-0. All three runs were unearned as his ERA dropped to 2.37. … Now it’s time for the postseason. “Going into the conference tournament and state playoffs, we’ve seen some of the best pitching in the state,” Rudisill said. “Our guys can feel confident that we’re not going to see anything better than we’ve just seen.”