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Wilson Christian Academy varsity athletic teams batted 0 for 3 in North Carolina Christian Schools Athletic Association 2-A state-championship games last Saturday in Kinston at Bethel Christian Academy.
And, no, Wilson Christian athletic director Brian Trull didn’t see it coming.
“It was unexpected,” Trull admitted. “I felt like we were in good position.”
Trull continued: “I was a little concerned about softball; that was going to be the toughest one.
“Baseball, I felt pretty good about our opportunity, even with the pitching situation.
“Soccer, I was nervous. We had a lot of injuries late in the season.”
Union Grove Christian of Lexington decisively defeated the Lady Chargers twice in a double-elimination format to end Wilson Christian’s reign of six consecutive state softball titles.
The baseball final was tied 1-1 when Wilmington Christian scored four runs in the top of the seventh inning and prevailed to 5-1 to nix the Chargers’ bid for a fourth state crown in six years.
Alamance Christian again conquered WCA in the girls soccer title game, this time by a 2-1 margin.
Trull’s softball concerns surfaced because, in a late-season doubleheader, Union Grove defeated the Lady Chargers twice.
Regarding baseball, WCA’s AD responded: “We struggled to hit the ball all weekend. But we still gave ourselves an opportunity.”
In girls soccer, the Lady Chargers couldn’t overcome an ankle injury to junior Ashley Hartsfield and a hip injury suffered by junior Lydia Renfrow. Trull estimated each competed at 50% efficiency.
Katelyn Parker missed the playoffs because of an injury.
“It was still a one-goal game,” Trull noted.
NO 2018-19 TITLES
For 2018-19, Wilson Christian wound up 0 for 4 in state-title games. WCA was also denied in girls basketball. Both cross-country teams were also state contenders.
The year belonged to the Alamance Christian program that produced six state champions.
Trull admits he can’t remember the last year a Wilson Christian team did not win a state championship. He suspects it might have been the last time the softball team came up short.
“But it was definitely a successful year,” Trull expressed. “The program is competitive year in and year out.”
He pointed out that, last Saturday, he witnessed a team eagerly celebrating its third-place state finish.
“I had much rather be in the place we are,” he contended. “Still, it’s tough when you don’t win that last game”.
Not to worry in the words of head baseball coach Ty Bissett.
“We’ll just reload and come back next year,” he pledged.
Undoubtedly, senior members of the Wilson Christian baseball team expected to repeat as state champs.
“It’s tough,” senior Bryce Hughes admitted, “especially coming off a championship year. It’s tough to have this good a team and not being able to get it done.
“We definitely could have won it, but we needed to come out a little stronger.”
Brice Murray, another senior, reasoned the Chargers had no reason to hang their heads.
Murray was especially driven since an injury prevented him from participating in the 2018 championship game.
He drew the starting mound assignment in the final but was limited to 75 pitches after working three innings in Friday’s semifinals win.
Murray, who has signed with Barton College, lasted five innings, allowing one scratch hit and an unearned run. He threw 73 pitches.
“It was unfortunate I had to come out,” he lamented. “I pitched a pretty good game and the defense had my back. I had faith in us the whole time and had a strong feeling we would come back.”
HONORED, NOT SCARED
In the sixth inning, Wilson Christian’s Seth Quinn, merely an eighth-grader, found himself in the unenviable position of going to the mound and being asked to keep his team in the game with score knotted at 1-1.
Quinn, to whom assistant coach Gee Sauls attaches high future expectations, pitched a scoreless sixth but was lifted after Wilmington Christian’s first two hitters collected scratch singles in the top of the seventh. Quinn wound up the losing pitcher.
Quinn insisted he was honored, not scared, to be summoned by Bissett.
“I felt pretty calm, pretty honored,” he insisted. “But I didn’t do my best; I’m capable of more.”
Mature beyond his years, Quinn expressed empathy for the seniors, commenting: “It breaks me up mentally and physically. But we’re going to get there again.”
Although feeling badly, Quinn declared he was also motivated for next season.
“It’s going to be a learning experience,” he reasoned. “This might have boosted us.”
Bissett hailed seniors Murray, Hughes, Zack Denmark, Jackson Hoskins and Adrian DeHart for “great careers.”
WCA’s head coach praised his team by remarking: “The guys showed a lot of class. We have a great fan base and wonderful support. Where else would you want to be? A lot of teams would like to be second in the state.”
Added Hughes: “We came out ready, but the balls were not falling where they needed to fall.”
“They deserved it,” Murray congratulated the champion Patriots.
Wilmington Christian seized its first state championship since 2013. Head coach Donny Seals viewed the feat as personal redemption of sorts.
He revealed, because of personal circumstances, he walked away from coaching in 2015.
“God blessed me with the opportunity to coach again,” Seals explained. “He gave me redemption with a good group of guys around me. I am overwhelmingly blessed.”
STATE, REGION AWARDS
Bissett credited Murray and Denmark for carrying the Chargers in 2019 and the seniors were rewarded with NCCSA All-State acclaim during the ceremony that followed Saturday’s baseball, girls soccer and softball championship games.
Junior Gabe Barnes and Max Holland and freshman Dylan Farmer were named All-East Region.
Murray batted .472 (25 for 53) with 18 runs, 20 runs batted in, seven doubles, three triples and 11 stolen bases in as many attempts. On the mound, the right-hander posted a 6-2 record and 2.02 earned run average. Murray struck out 55 and walked 16 in 34 2/3 innings.
Denmark wound up hitting .410 (25 for 61) with 20 runs, 20 RBIs and four doubles. Also a right-handed pitcher, he compiled a 6-0 record and 1.67 ERA. In 37 innings, Denmark struck out 44 and walked 12.
Barnes hit .435 (30 for 69) with 30 runs, 17 RBI, two doubles, two triples and 14 for 14 in stolen bases. Farmer’s batting average was .377 (23 for 62) with 24 runs, 17 RBIs, three doubles and seven stolen bases. Holland wound up a .368 hitter (25 for 68) with 24 runs, 18 RBIs and two doubles.
INJURIES PILE UP
To put it mildly, the Wilson Christian girls soccer team was a list of walking wounded by the time Saturday’s NCCSA 2-A championship match with Alamance Christian rolled around.
The group that defeated the Lady Warriors 3-1 in an early-season contest were nowhere near the group that toiled under a hot sun at Bethel Christian.
Although Parker was missing, other Lady Chargers — such as juniors Ashley Hartsfield and Lydia Renfrow, played through nagging injuries. A team that allowed just 28 goals via its midfield found itself slower to the ball and witnessed Alamance begin to get the better of the play with about 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
The result was Wilson Christian’s first loss against an NCCSA foe at the worst possible time.
“We didn’t have the speed up,” Wilson Christian head coach Don Samson said. “Really, our legs just weren’t there. Especially after playing (Friday) night. Everything was there, but just not at the speed we needed today.”
With the application of duct tape, WD-40 and bandaids, Wilson Christian seized a 1-0 lead on freshman Reagan Barnes’ chip up and over the keeper in the 24th minute. But once the 30th minute hit, Alamance Christian began generating momentum with regularity. The first of three shots from Alamance slammed off the post with 55 seconds remaining in the first half. The Lady Chargers arrived at halftime with the one-goal lead, but two more attempts slammed off the crossbar in the 46th.
Finally, with 33:49 to go, the equalizer came on a nifty give-and-go inside the box from Victoria Briggs. A breakdown defensively from Wilson Christian put Alamance ahead to stay with the game-winning goal just 41 seconds later, as Charlotte Ward sent it high and past senior WCA goalkeeper Christy Jones into the net.
WCA didn’t get a single shot on frame in the second half and lacked the speed to be any threat in the attacking third.
“Where we ran out of gas, they didn’t,” Samson said of Alamance. “As the game went on, I thought we even did a good job limiting their opportunities. They’re a strong, offensive, powerful team and we limited as best we could.”
ONE FOR THE ROAD
With Alamance winning its fifth state title in six years, head coach Bob LaTour was sent out a winner in his final game. LaTour, who came to Alamance Christian from the Maryland area, disclosed his plans to step away following the contest.
“This is bittersweet for me because it’s my last soccer game,” LaTour said. “I’ve coaches for six years, and it’s time to hang them up. And, the seniors started with me in seventh grade and I thank the Lord they’ve won five of the last six. And they lost to them (2017). That’s one of the favorite games I’ll ever have.”
Proclaimed All-State in girls soccer were senior Jenna Varnell, sophomore Lea Gossett and junior Renfrow. Tabbed all-region were Jones, a senior, and Hartsfield.
Varnell repeated as All-State while Gossett rebounded from a freshman-season injury to pace the Lady Chargers with 32 goals.
Jones gave up softball to play in goal in soccer. She responded with 11 shutouts and anchored a defense that allowed but 17 goals all season.
In softball, senior McKenna Griffin capped a sensational career by being recognized as All-State for the fifth time in seven years.
Also voted All-State was eighth-grader Holland Miller, while freshman Jennifer Edmondson received all-region attention.
Griffin batted .618 (21 for 38) with 20 runs, 20 RBIs, four doubles and six home runs. Miller hit .500 (19 for 38) with 21 runs, 12 RBIs, seven doubles, three triples and two homers.
Edmondson compiled a .433 hitting norm (13 for 30) with 19 runs and 11 RBI. The right-hander was also WCA’s primary pitcher, posting a 5-6 record.