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The years have flown by and the players on Fike High’s state 3-A championship baseball team in 1999 are inching towards middle age, but the memory of the Golden Demons’ remarkable run to the school’s second North Carolina High School Athletic Association crown on the diamond are firmly etched in their minds.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years,” said Brock Godwin, just a sophomore on that Fike team in 1999 and now a nearly 36-year-old executive at BB&T. “It seemed like yesterday we were in high school playing and now a lot of us are raising kids and coaching our own kids’ teams.”
Godwin and several of his teammates and coaches from the 1999 championship squad will come together for a reunion Thursday night at Fike’s home game against Franklinton before retiring to Pup’s Steakhouse to share memories of that special spring two decades ago.
“When you get older, you go your separate ways and it’s kind of been tough for me to gather everybody back together,” said Brent Bissette, the MVP of the state championship series, who helped former Demons head coach Will Flowers put together the reunion. “Winning the state championship was just a great honor, but now, looking back I cherish it a whole lot more than I did.”
TEAM ON A MISSION
On paper, Fike didn’t look much like a team capable of winning a state championship. The Demons entered the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs with a 16-6 record and just a share of the Big Eight Conference title. But they were a team on a mission, having lost to eventual state champion Havelock in the 3-A Eastern championship game in 1998.
“There was no doubt that we were going to be back. There was no doubt in our minds that we were going to be back for a state championship,” Bissette said.
Flowers said: “I don’t know if it was our time or what but I reckon you make your breaks in advance with the team you have. I mean, I would have hated to play us!”
As fate would have it, the Demons started their playoff journey in 1999 with a 6-4 win over Havelock before downing Fuquay-Varina, Bertie and Western Guilford to reach the state championship series for the first time since Fike won the 1968 4-A title.
Waiting for the Demons was a loaded Asheville T.C. Roberson team that featured future major leaguer Chris Narveson as the ace of its pitching staff. But none of that mattered to Fike.
“I don’t think that anybody ever thought for one second about being scared to play them,” Godwin said.
Fike didn’t get to the state finals by being scared. The players had grown up together, many of them playing on a team coached by Al Batchelor, the father of Demons designated hitter Justin Batchelor.
“Al was an instrumental part of those boys’ development,” Flowers said.
Godwin was the lone sophomore on the team but he had been playing alongside the older players for years as well. His older brother, Brandon, was one of the seniors on the 1998 team. Brock Godwin said that many of the players on the 1999 team eschewed playing other sports to play fall league baseball.
“Most of us were baseball guys. We lived at the field,” he said.
Bissette, one of six seniors on the 1999 team, said that they knew long before they arrived at N.C. State University’s Doak Field to play Roberson they would be playing for a state championship one day.
“We were very scrappy. We were just a bunch of country boys and we had played together pretty much all our lives,” Bissette said. “I remember having a conversation with (teammate) Chris Harrell back when we were in middle school, saying we were going to win a state championship one day. One day we were going to be there. We were that good. We had no fear. It was just amazing. We clicked together, we had fun together, we hung out together and we weren’t scared of anybody.”
The Rams were waiting as the Western champions with a 24-0 record. Besides Narveson, who would be drafted in the second round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft the following year, Roberson had a handful of players — Jake Mullis, Matt Wright and Bo Dickerson — who would go on to play at the NCAA Division I level.
Fike had Godwin, who would end up having a hall-of-fame career at Div. II Barton College, but no other “big names.”
“We were more of a team,” insisted Bissette. “T.C. Roberson, they were really good but it seems to me that they might have been a bunch of individuals. In addition to Narveson, who did get drafted, they had several other guys who played D-I and we didn’t have anybody who played Division I baseball.”
But Narveson was really good. Flowers said he enlisted the aid of veteran Greene Central head coach James R. “Rabbit” Fulghum, who was Flowers’ American Legion coach in Wilson nearly two decades earlier, for a scouting report.
“If I can remember correctly, Coach Fulghum said, ‘If he pitches, y’all ain’t got a chance. He’s that good,’” Flowers recalled with a laugh.
And Narveson was that good in Raleigh, shutting out Fike 3-0 on a one-hitter while striking out 11 in the series opener. But all three Rams’ runs came after a throwing error in the seventh inning as Fike senior David Davis, who began the season getting shelled 10-0 by then 4-A Rocky Mount, battled the TCR ace every pitch of the way. Davis only permitted four hits and all the runs were unearned.
A DAY TO REMEMBER
With a chance to sleep on it, the Demons returned with their backs against the figurative wall Sunday, needing to do twice what no team had been able to do all season — beat Roberson.
“I reckon people wrote us off, thinking we couldn’t beat them two times in one day,” Flowers said. “They were undefeated. But they didn’t know the character and the drive those boys had.”
That drive manifested itself in Bissette, who had grown into the role of the No. 2 pitcher. He pitched a complete game in Fike’s 2-1 win in eight innings. Trailing 1-0 in the top of the sixth, Bissette led off with a single, stole second, took third on teammate Jonathan Stancil’s grounder and scored on a passed ball.
“I had no fear,” Bissette said. “I knew the guys behind me — I wasn’t worried at all. I knew we could do it. I had faith in myself and I had faith in my team.”
After Bissette got out of a jam in the bottom of the seventh, Fike’s Jeff Bass beat out a grounder to lead off the eighth. Mark Wilson laid down a sacrifice bunt and, with two out, Stancil ripped a shot that the UNCW-bound Wright couldn’t handle at first, allowing Bass to score the go-ahead run.
“After that game, you could see T.C. Roberson just going, ‘What in the world is going on here?’” Flowers said.
Fike fed off that momentum by pouncing on Rams starter Dickerson for four runs in the top of the first, giving starting pitcher Godwin, who had thrown sparingly throughout the season, a big cushion.
“I wasn’t really worried about walking batters,” Godwin said. “They were going to have to beat me with their stick and putting up four runs in the first inning was just a huge momentum boost for us because runs were scarce all weekend.”
Fike added to its lead but the Rams were never very far away. Once again Bissette came up big with a lunging, back-to-the-infield catch that quelled a TCR rally in the fifth and kept the Demons’ lead at 6-2. By the time Godwin found himself in a sixth-inning jam, it was time, as he said, to “just get the ball into David’s hands.”
Davis retired six of the seven batters he faced and, back at shortstop, Godwin scooped up the last TCR grounder and fired to first baseman Craig Danielson to trigger the Demons’ dog pile celebration at Doak.
“It was a wonderful day in my life and for the guys as well, to do something like that in one day for all the marbles,” said Flowers, who was assisted by Brent Secrest and Charles Blanchard, as well as pitching coach Randy Prince, whom Flowers credited for making a considerable impression.
And the memories live on.
“I think the players will never forget it. I know I won’t,” said Flowers.
Bissette said that while they might not have realized it at the time, there was a life lesson playing out for the Demons.
“I would say that anything’s possible,” he said. “You can’t ever give up. If you fail, you’ve got to keep trying.
We failed in ’98 but we kept trying and in ’99, we succeeded.”