Giddy baseball season ends at S. Caldwell

Published 1:03 pm Thursday, May 23, 2019

If Troy Clary were a fictional character in a book with a Davie County slant, he’d have delivered the game’s biggest hit in the third round of the 4-A playoffs at South Caldwell on May 14. As it was, Clary was unlucky – he was unlucky twice, as it turned out – and South Caldwell’s Owen Foxx did that deed. Real life stinks.

With the score 2-2 in the top of the fourth and two War Eagles in scoring position, Clary put the barrel on an offering from pitcher Isaac Bush, who was overpowering most of the night. Then comes the “but,” which you knew was coming. Clary hit the ball on the screws, but right to the third baseman. Instead of a 4-2 Davie lead, it remained 2-2, and the Spartans rode Foxx’s three-run double to a 5-2 win over Davie in the round of 16.

The fourth-seeded Spartans, who captured the Northwestern 3-A/4-A Conference, improved to 22-5. The No. 5 War Eagles, who would have hosted league rival Reagan with a win in Hudson, finished with 22 victories, two shy of the program record.

“We hit some balls hard,” Davie coach Bradley Rudisill said. “Garrett (Chandler) hit a ball right at the third baseman in the first inning. If it’s lifted a little bit, it’s a double down the line and that may change the trajectory of how things are going. Troy hit the ball exceptionally hard (in the fourth and seventh).”

Davie’s offense sputtered against Bush, a senior headed to Catawba Valley Community College. He walked none and struck out 11 in a three-hitter.

Rudisill: “I didn’t think he would strike out 11. He’s not a high velocity guy. He spins it a lot. He has a curveball, slider and he really had his changeup working. We were chasing some changeups down in the zone. You’ve got to tip your cap to him. He did what he needed to do. Once they saw we were going to chase the offspeed, they kept going back to it.”

Davie’s mound combination did solid work. Spencer Nifong (5-2) gave up four hits and three earned runs in four innings, walking none and striking out four as he tossed 42 of 59 pitches for strikes. Anthony Azar, who responded in his 12th relief outing with 21 strikes in 33 pitches, yielded one hit in two innings and fanned three.

Rudisill: “They swing the bat exceptionally well. I told them: ‘You guys pitched your tails off.’ Both pitched well enough to win. Really only one ball was hit hard (off Nifong), the home run. Azar came in in a very tough spot, facing the best of their lineup.”

In the first, Nifong’s strikeout left a runner at third. In the second, the lefty overcame a double and error in the outfield and stranded runners at the corners.

South, though, broke through in the third. The first batter singled, advanced on an error and came home on a sac fly. With two outs, senior Hunter Ingle, who struck out in his first at-bat, homered on a 2-0 count. It was the cleanup man’s fifth dinger of the season. South had a 2-0 lead.

Rudisill: “It was a 2-0 count on two questionable calls. Spencer had to groove him a pitch.”

Davie fought back in the fourth. Bush’s perfect game ended when Chandler reached on a strikeout/wild pitch. He stole second and scored on Aaron Williams’ two-strike single to center. Courtesy runner Will Cheek stole second and scored the tying run on Carson Whisenhunt’s ringing double to right.

“It landed on top of the fence and bounced back in,” Rudisill said of the double. “If that ball goes out, we’ve got a (3-2) lead.”

Joe Johnson reached on an error – South’s only miscue of the night; Davie committed three errors – and then Whisenhunt and Johnson pulled off a double steal to set the stage for Clary.

Clary hit it sharply, but it went down as a L-5.

Rudisill: “Carson and Joe would have scored on that because they weren’t holding Joe (at second) and he was getting a big lead. It was definitely a big moment.”

Nifong retired South in order in the fourth, and Davie went down quietly in the top of the fifth.

South’s decisive rally came in the bottom of the fifth. A single and an error on a bunt play ended Nifong’s night. Azar inherited two runners and the No. 2 batter, who walked on a fullcount pitch. Foxx was next, and the senior who had bounced out to third baseman Johnson in his first two at-bats rocked a two-strike offering. The result was a three-run double.

Rudisill: “Foxx is their true power guy. He’s hit four or five home runs. I knew he had a ton of power. We pitched him well (in the first and third innings). That time, I think we went to the fastball too many times, just missed a spot and he put a good swing on it.”

All three War Eagles went down on strikes in the top of the sixth. Azar cruised after the Foxx blow, retiring the last six Spartans.

Davie had one last chance in the seventh. With one out, Michael Shelton singled to center on his final high school swing. The burden of keeping Davie alive fell on Clary. He did all he could, hitting the ball on the screws. Alas, it went straight to the second baseman, who turned an easy double play to end the game.

Rudisill: “Troy absolutely crushed the ball. Michael got his secondary (lead) and didn’t even have time to turn around and he was already doubled off. There were so many things that could have gone our way and didn’t.”

Notes: After averaging 8.7 hits per game, Davie’s only hits came from Williams, Whisenhunt and Shelton. … Davie’s run ended at the home of Madison Bumgarner, the three-time World Series-winning pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. The Spartans are a perennial power, going 20-6, 26-1, 28-2 and 23-4 between 2014-18. “They have that South Caldwell aura around them,” Rudisill said. “They expect to win when they walk out on the field.”… The War Eagles have a three-game losing streak in the final 16, falling 3-0 to Glenn in 2010 and 5-1 to Mt. Tabor in 2012.

What A Season

After going 12-13 and 10-12 the past two years, the War Eagles made a huge leap forward in Rudisill’s first year as coach. An epic surge saw the War Eagles go 22-4 on the field (the record was officially 16-10 due to forfeits in six nonconference games).

Here are some of the spine-tingling moments.

Whisenhunt struck out 17 against West Rowan, one short of the single-game record, and put up 22 consecutive scoreless innings. Williams enjoyed a nine-game hitting streak. When Davie was 9-0, it was the best start in 32 years. The War Eagles trailed archrival West Forsyth 4-0 and prevailed 5-4. They trailed in the sixth at Southeast Guilford and escaped 4-3. The 16-1 record on April 9 was the greatest 17-game record in Davie’s 63-year history. The War Eagles were 7-0 in the CPC for the first time in 28 years.  Azar authored a dazzling 18-game hitting streak, the longest by a War Eagle this century. They trailed in the seventh at Reagan and survived 2-1 to force a tie for first and end the Raiders’ winning streak at 15. Chandler hit a robust .412 across 18 games. Davie faced a 4-1, sixth-inning deficit to Reagan and won 9-5 in a winner-take-all showdown as Davie celebrated its first CPC title in seven years. Whisenhunt, the overwhelming force on the bump, produced the longest win streak (eight) in 13 years and the best start (8-0) in 18 years. Chandler’s hitting streak peaked at 10 games. Davie stopped a five-game losing streak in the state playoffs, and the giddy ride resulted in the fourth 22-win season in Davie annals.

Rudisill: “Wow. This team has overcome so many different things. I wasn’t able to get to campus until mid-October. I wanted to instill a different culture and the guys completely bought into it. The biggest thing I’ll remember about these guys is the love they had for one another. When one person went down, it was the next man up. When one person didn’t have it at the plate, eight others stepped up and did what they needed to do. To win a conference championship, I’m super proud of them.”

Davie careers ended for nine seniors: Grayson Keaton, Jacob Campbell, Justin Chaffin, Hunter Bowles, Michael Shelton, Cheek, Will Sherrill, Whisenhunt and Victor Johnson. Rudisill’s first staff included assistants Ross Hoffner, Jess Cartner and Joey Anderson.

“They helped tremendously,” he said.

Key Stats

By cracking eight wins, Whisenhunt joined an illustrious group. The other eight guys to win at least that many games were Brock Keene (12-1 in 1993), John McDaniel (12-2 in 2006), John Parker (11-0 in 1965), Travis Allen (9-0 in 2001), Grimes Parker (9-1 in 1963), Ryan Foster (9-2 in 2011 and 9-3 in 2012), Paul Ijames (8-2 in 1971) and Tony Renegar (8-3 in 1991).

The top batting averages belonged to Williams (.364), Chandler (.360), Azar (.358), Johnson (.345), Bowles (.344), Whisenhunt (.342) and Clary (.302).

Williams’ 85 at-bats were the most since Foster’s 98 in 2012. Chandler’s 28 runs were the most since Nick Boswell’s 29 in 2012. Williams and Chandler had 31 hits each, the most since Chris Reynolds’ 32 in 2017. Williams’ nine doubles were the most since Paul Davenport’s 10 in 2015. Whisenhunt’s three home runs were the most since Brandon Lankford’s six and Ryan Harrell’s three in 2015. Williams and Johnson both had 23 RBIs, the most since Matt Vernon’s 24 in 2013. Whisenhunt had 21 walks/hit by pitches, the most since Lankford’s 21 in 2016. Whisenhunt’s 13 steals were the most since Boswell’s 14 in 2012. Whisenhunt’s 0.98 ERA was the lowest in 13 years, dating to McDaniel’s 0.75 in 2006.

The team batting average (.314) and staff ERA (1.74) were the best marks in seven years.