Hall of Famer John McDaniel a pitching legend

Published 9:48 am Thursday, October 29, 2020

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First in a two-part series on new Davie hall of famer John McDaniel.

The undisputed best pitcher in Davie High history is John Parker; there isn’t even a real argument to be had. As a senior in 1965, the 6-4 righthander went 11-0 in 11 starts, winning 1-0 over Billy Champion and Shelby in the Western North Carolina Activities Association championship game.

Parker had a fastball that could be heard but not seen, a backbreaking curveball and perfect control as he struck out 156 in 82 2/3 innings and walked 25. You couldn’t find his ERA with a microscope (0.42). He was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies and climbed as high as Triple A before retiring in 1971.

So the top line always reads “John Parker” and the debates begin at No. 2. John McDaniel is certainly in that conversation.

Brock Keene (12-1 in 1993) and McDaniel (12-2 in 2006) are tied for first in single-season pitching wins. After J. Parker’s 11-0 run in 1965, there’s Travis Allen’s 9-0 in 2001, Grimes Parker’s 9-1 in 1963, Ryan Foster’s 9-2 in 2011, Foster’s 9-3 in 2012 and Carson Whisenhunt’s 8-0 in 2019.

J. Parker is the leader in career wins at 23-5 from 1962-65. McDaniel and Foster both went 22-9 from 2004-06 and 2010-12, respectively.

McDaniel was an utter genius at throwing strikes. In 215.1 career varsity innings, he walked just 25 batters – while striking out 182.

The legend of John McDaniel began in Landis in 2004. Davie carried a three-game losing streak into a Central Piedmont Conference game at South Rowan. Coming off a 9-7 loss to West Forsyth in which it squandered a 7-6 lead in the seventh, Davie needed a win like a desert needs rain. Coach Mike Herndon gave the ball to a sophomore and McDaniel massaged Davie’s mindset with a complete-game five-hitter in his first varsity start.

Some South students started heckling McDaniel the moment he took the mound, but they couldn’t faze McDaniel’s unflappable demeanor. He was always next-level cool, his thermostat stuck on 72 degrees. Davie silenced South 5-0.

“They were calling me chicken noodle arm, rag arm and all that stuff,” McDaniel said then. “It was kind of funny. I just kind of laughed at it.”

Last week McDaniel said: “I remember them sitting behind the backstop on the couch, calling me chicken noodle arm. At the time, it was a pretty accurate statement.” Then he added: “I think they got a little quieter as the game went on.”


McDaniel, 32, lives in Mocksville and works at Doosan Portable Power in Statesville. He and wife Julia have one child, a 15-month-old boy named Grady. Julia grew up in Denver (Lincoln County) and played soccer at Pfeiffer. John played baseball at Pfeiffer, so that explains how they met.

The 20th Davie High Athletic Hall of Fame class includes Jonette Williard Poole (1996), Duane Phillips (2000), Billy Riddle (2004) and the 1994-95 girls basketball team (25-2 record).

“Barry Whitlock called me,” McDaniel said when asked how he found out he was named to the HOF Class of 2021. “I was pretty surprised, to be honest with you. I didn’t really see that coming. You figure those days (of being in the sports section) are behind you.”

Todd Bumgarner saw the beginnings of McDaniel’s mound magic as South Davie’s coach in 2002. There was an epic, extra-inning game between South and North Davie, McDaniel and North’s Tom Kuell both going the distance on the mound. North led 1-0 going into the bottom of the eighth. After Aaron Hollifield delivered a game-tying hit, Brad Corriher cracked a walk-off homer to give the Tigers a 2-1 win. McDaniel walked one in eight innings.

During that eighth-grade season, McDaniel had two walks through 38.2 innings, his ERA standing at 2.89 at that point. The Tigers finished 11-3.

2003 JV Season

McDaniel was basically unstoppable as a freshman JV pitcher.

Although Davie lost 5-3 at home to East Rowan, McDaniel walked none and struck out eight in seven innings. His ERA through his first 10 innings of work was 0.70.

In a 10-0 rout of Mt. Tabor, he struck out eight in five innings. Coach Lee Linville said: “John’s not an overpowering pitcher. He’s more of a Greg Maddux-type. His curveball and knuckleball keep people offbalance.”

In a 2-1 win over East Rowan, McDaniel scattered seven hits in seven innings.

The War Eagles emphatically avenged a 4-3 loss to West Forsyth with a 13-0 battering of the Titans. Davie sent 13 batters to the plate in a 10-run first. Matt “Foo” Smith cranked his third homer of the year. After escaping a bases-loaded jam in the first, McDaniel got West in order in the third, fourth and fifth. He worked a one-hitter over five innings, fanned eight and lowered his ERA to 2.16 across 35.2 innings.

McDaniel was pulled up for the CPC Tournament. It was a miserable season for Davie’s varsity (the 4-15 record is the worst in program history). Davie lost 6-0 at North Davidson, but McDaniel got his feet wet in relief. The score was 5-0 when he entered and 6-0 when he left. He struck out three in three innings. Herndon said: “It was a learning experience. We had five freshmen out there together.”

2004 Sophomore Year

The March 23 game at South Rowan is when a certain varsity sophomore went from a “who’s he?” to Johnny Mac.

Ted Randolph and Lance Emert had clutch two-out hits as Davie stopped the three-game slide and evened its CPC mark at 1-1. In the top of the first, Randolph’s double scored Zach Vogler. In the sixth, Randolph’s second double sparked a three-run uprising. Emert’s two-run single between short and third pushed the margin to 4-0. Smith capped the scoring with a RBI double.

Meanwhile, McDaniel outdueled South veteran Daniel Moore while chopping his ERA from 6.56 to 3.96 in one memorable night.

“They weren’t nice to him and he never cracked a smile,” Herndon said of the South hecklers. “He was pretty awesome.”

The pressure was on Davie again following a 9-1 loss to unbeaten Reynolds. At North Davidson, the sophomore sensation drove Davie to a 7-2 win with a complete-game six-hitter, both runs coming after Davie had built a 6-0 lead.

“He kind of baffled them,” Herndon said. “It’s hard to believe he’s a sophomore.”

Fed up by the listless effort against Reynolds, Herndon pulled up two freshmen one game after bringing up sophomore Timmy Allen. Herndon’s deck-shuffling worked: Allen roped two singles and freshman Brandon Stewart doubled and made a running catch in right field. Allen, Stewart and freshman Justin Thompson joined a lineup that was already loaded with impressive youth, including sophomore center fielder Vogler and freshman second baseman Whit Merrifield, whose opposite-field single ignited a four-run fifth.

Meanwhile, North’s bats couldn’t handle the savvy and offspeed junk of McDaniel, who fanned five of the first 10 batters, spun North’s leadoff man silly (four Ks) and finished with seven Ks and one walk.

“The first three times (North’s leadoff man) came up there lefthanded,” Herndon said. “The fourth time he went up there righthanded.”

McDaniel was roughed up in relief during an 11-0 home loss to West Forsyth, but he bounced back in an 11-1 home stomping of Concord, his three-hitter over five innings improving his record to 4-0.

McDaniel was a hard-luck loser in a 1-0 setback at Reynolds. He tossed a complete game, only to be betrayed by Davie’s offense, which scored two or less runs for the sixth time.

“When you give up five hits, strike out six and walk one, you should win,” Herndon said. “But we only had four hits (two each by Merrifield and Stewart).”

The magnificent pitching battle went Jay Laramore’s way. Laramore did it all, knocking in the game’s only run and hurling six innings to improve to 6-0. McDaniel allowed four base runners from the second through the sixth, giving him a 1.53 ERA over five starts.

“He mixes it up and throws it in a tin cup,” Herndon said.

The CPC Tournament was held at Rich Park. In the first round, No. 4 Davie pulled out a dramatic 2-1 win over No. 5 South Rowan as McDaniel once again outdueled Moore. Smith provided a run-scoring hit and threw out a runner at home to end the game. McDaniel threw just 71 pitches and walked none to offset eight hits. On the other side, Moore pitched a four-hitter.

“If you have no interest in the game, you hate to see either one of those pitchers lose,” Herndon said.

All the scoring was done in the first. In the bottom of the first, Merrifield singled and raced to third on Emert’s hit-and-run single. Smith tied the score with a sharp single, and Vogler plated the second run with a groundout. In the top of the seventh, South had the tying run at second with two outs. Patrick Atwell punched a single the other way. Left fielder Smith fired a strike, the throw reaching catcher Timmy Allen in the air. Daniel Wagner was out by a mile.

“You’ve got to live for plays like that,” Smith said.

But in the semifinals, top-seeded West Forsyth downed Davie 6-2. Davie finished 8-16 overall and 3-9 in the CPC, hitting a woeful .249. Corriher capitalized on a late-season emergence at first base and soared to a team-high average of .321. The only other .300 hitter was Emert (.312).

Davie’s All-CPC selections were senior pitcher Andrew McClannon, who had a 2-7 record despite a 2.56 ERA; shortstop Emert; and McDaniel, who went 6-2 with a 2.66 ERA while accounting for all but two of Davie’s wins. His strikeout-to-walk numbers were an eye-popping 53 to 10 across 60.1 innings.

2005 Junior Season

In an error-free game at East Rowan, Davie fell short 3-2 in nine innings. McDaniel was stellar in his junior debut, but East pulled it out on a suicide squeeze play in the ninth.

“He’s legit,” East coach Brian Hightower said of McDaniel. “He ain’t going to walk anybody.”

Davie staged a thrilling rally in the seventh. After two walks, McDaniel coaxed a fullcount walk. After Smith’s infield hit, Vogler rapped a two-strike pitch between short and third to tie the game at 2.

McDaniel got a no-decision after throwing seven five-hit innings, walking one and striking out seven.

In a narrow 1-0 defeat at West Rowan, McDaniel got the loss despite walking none in a five-hitter. He needed just 59 pitches to navigate six innings. Davie, though, left runners in scoring position in five different innings as West’s Wade Moore tossed a four-hitter with nine Ks.

“(McDaniel) did everything he could,” catcher Timmy Allen said. “He was like a machine out there.”

The E. Rowan/W. Rowan games were a microcosm of Davie’s season. The War Eagles started 2-3 even though five arms had combined for a 2.24 ERA with 40 Ks against five walks. The offense hit an inept .202 in three early losses.

Davie kept battling vigorously but finished 3-9 in the CPC. The other four teams went 7-5 or 6-6.

“We could be 9-3,” Herndon said. “This whole year’s been should’ve, could’ve and would’ve.”

Just like the regular season, the CPC Tournament was alternately thrilling and exasperating for the War Eagles.

With two playoff berths up for grabs, No. 5 Davie met No. 4 Reynolds in the play-in game. Overdue for a spot of luck, Davie survived 3-2 as sophomore call-up Heath Boyd handled seventh-inning pressure like a senior, delivering a game-tying hit.

Boyd, who had not seen any varsity time, started in left field. “When I was warming up (in the on-deck circle), Brad told me to get up there and do my best and not to think about it,” Boyd said. “That got me pumped up.”

Boyd tied it with a two-strike hit. Stewart followed with a go-ahead knock, his fourth hit of the game coming with two strikes.

McDaniel relieved Corriher in the sixth with the Demons in front 2-1. He had lost three of four decisions, but he returned to form in timely fashion, retiring all six batters to get the win.

“We expect so much from him,” Herndon said. “He hasn’t been bad, but we expect him to go out there and do it every time. People know him now and they gear up for him.”

The seventh-inning rally started with Zach Howard’s mile-high popup being misplayed. Saxon Pratt came off the bench and laid down a sac bunt. But with two outs, Davie was the end of the plank when Boyd fell behind 1-2. Then came a live-drive hit to left. Merrifield’s soft liner fell. Stewart blistered a RBI single up the middle. McDaniel slammed the door with two hitless innings in which he walked zero and fanned four.

“The hit of the year,” Corriher said of Boyd. “That’s as clutch as you’ll ever see.”

But Davie couldn’t string anything together all year, losing 4-3 in the semifinals at No. 1 North Davidson. It was 3-3 in the bottom of the fifth with McDaniel on the hill. But the Black Knights pushed across the clinching run with a suicide squeeze.

“Davie was a hot team coming in, and they were the only team that could bump us out of the playoffs,” North coach Mike Meadows said. “We had to take care of them.”

Howard and Stewart had three and two hits, respectively. McDaniel gave up two earned runs and walked none in six innings – but still took the loss as Davie left seven runners in scoring position.

The 10-14 season was full of what-ifs? (Davie went 2-6 in CPC games decided by one or two runs or in extra innings.)

On the bright side, Merrifield hit .442 and Emert .395. Stewart went 15 for 31 in the last 12 games. Making All-CPC were senior Emert; juniors Vogler and McDaniel; and sophomores Merrifield, Howard and Stewart.

McDaniel deserved better than a 4-5 record. You can trace that to 16 unearned runs. He had a 2.78 ERA over 68 innings with seven walks and 54 Ks.

With 13 of 16 players set to return, not counting JV call-ups Boyd and Thompson, brighter tomorrows were coming in 2006.

Next week: Part II – McDaniel’s magical senior year.