With sports off the table for at least a few more months, I’m turning to my reflective side and recounting a handful of my most memorable games in almost seven years at this job.
If you read this column, you know I’m not the biggest fan of baseball. I just think there is a lot of empty space in baseball games, which I realize is by design to kill long, hot afternoons, but still hard to sit through when you don’t have a vested interest in the outcome.
That being said, one of my top three favorite playoff runs in my time at this position was the East Carteret baseball team’s state championship berth in 2016.
Head coach Jason Salter’s crowd was a fun one, with guys like Brennan Lewis, Austin Goodwin, Ethan Lynk, Duncan Englehardt, Landon Willis, Duncan Englehardt, Jarrett Yeomans, Matt Maulshagen, Chad Golden and Landon Willis in the mix.
The playoff run ended in a two-game loss to Whiteville in the 1A state championship, where I got to see future Gatorade National Player of the Year and No. 3 pick in the 2016 MLB Draft MacKenzie Gore. Of course, East also threw Lewis, a Division I-bound quarterback.
But it wasn’t the Whiteville series that I remember most. It was the semifinal contest with Spring Creek. It was my first time traveling for a baseball playoff game, and it was a good matchup. East (18-9) was ranked No. 10 in 1A and Spring Creek (19-7) No. 9.
Seven Springs wasn’t a bad location to spend an evening. The school stands alone in a large, flat clearing with lots of shady trees along the infield fence. The fans there were friendly enough, and East brought its usual supportive contingent.
The whole thing was a really nice, laid-back experience. It was one of the first times a coach had invited me into the dugout to get a better vantage. At one point “My Sharona” came on, and I watched the 30- and 40-something-old coaches perfectly nail the cues of the song from their childhoods. It rained a little, but that only kept things cool.
The game itself was a slow one until the seventh inning when East broke a two-run tie with four runs to win 6-2. Goodwin and Lewis combined for five strikeouts on the mound and limited Spring Creek to as many hits. Offensively, Ethan Lynk went 3-of-4 with two doubles and a single and scored three runs. Lewis hit 1-of-4 with three RBIs, while Yeomans and Maulshagen each tallied a hit and drove in a run.
Lynk, Goodwin and Lewis were the most memorable players for me. Lynk was a monster leadoff hitter with speed and a lot of energy. Lewis closed the game out strong, but Goodwin had kept a great offense at bay for five-plus innings. I didn’t know much about Goodwin before that game, but he made sure everyone knew who he was before he hopped off the mound.
I’ve covered a lot of road playoff games, but very, very few of them have resulted in wins for the county game. That’s what made this game special, a good win by a good team in a big moment.
(Send comments or questions to email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)