HOPE MILLS – It is often said that the path taken to reach a destination is more meaningful than the destination itself.
While this principle may be easier to recognize in hindsight, East Surry baseball coach Chad Freeman admitted that – while this saying is true – it does not alleviate the pain he is currently feeling afterwards. Sunday’s loss in the NC High School Athletic Association 1A State Championship. Series. The Cardinals fell to the Perquimans Pirates in the first two games of the series on June 27.
âI’m not going to lie: it stings a lot, and I’m still going through a lot of emotions,â Freeman said in an interview Monday afternoon. âI am suffering for our children and for our community because it is something they deserve. Just because of the hard work and dedication they put in. It really breaks my heart for them.
The resilient East Surry team had to fight this school year. For the most part, the Cardinals emerged victorious from their various obstacles. A postponed season, a condensed schedule, a glove of worthy opponents and a pandemic itself were not enough to derail Freeman’s gritty team who have worked to compete at the highest level.
The glorious path the Cardinals started on in April led them to the State Championship Series. The team continued to fight the curved balls thrown at them, both on and off the field, in pursuit of the school’s first state title.
But, the Cardinals came in just under the ultimate price.
After many postponements, a change of venue and what appeared to be the wettest day in recorded history, East Surry fell to the Perquimans in back-to-back games.
The first was a 10-round marathon that followed the Pirates’ Path after courtesy runner Tanner Thach de Perquimans, who was later named series MVP, scored from a left field hit. . Perquimans (17-1) won Game 1 by a score of 5-4.
âWe had a lot of chances to win Game 1, but we just couldn’t pull it off,â Freeman said. âIt wasn’t because of the efforts of our guys, though. We had some great approaches and we played hard. We just had a few breaks against us, and I definitely have to take my hat off to Perquimans for fighting and making big plays.
Freeman said it would have been easy for his team to deflate after losing such a grueling first game and having to replay immediately. Instead, he saw his players pick themselves up and refocus on Game 2.
It worked and, just like Game 1 of the series, East Surry (17-3) took an early lead. The Cards led 4-2 in the third inning, but Perquimans scored five unanswered runs in the sixth inning. East fired back and scored a run in the seventh before placing the runners in the second and third.
Thach, who pledged to play baseball at UNC-Wilmington, ended the game with consecutive strikeouts to give the Pirates their first state championship in 58 years.
âThere is a difference between losing because you lost your focus and didn’t do your best,â Freeman said âand having a great effort and a good attitude but maybe not performing everything perfectly. . Our guys never stopped fighting and that’s all I can ask for.
Cardinal’s coaching staff preached all weekend that as a team East Surry was going to focus on what they could control and not get carried away by anything else.
It was easier said than done with the ever-evolving series. The Cardinals were initially scheduled to play Game 1 at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 25, Game 2 at 2 p.m. on Saturday, and then Game 3, if necessary, at 8 p.m. that night.
Bad weather made the host pitch at JP Riddle Stadium in Fayetteville Tech unplayable on Friday night. As a result, Games 1 and 2 have been postponed to Saturday with a possible Game 3 on Sunday.
Game 1 on Saturday afternoon lasted barely an hour before rain forced players into the shelter before it was finally called off due to poor pitch conditions. The games have been postponed again and are said to be all taking place on Sunday at nearby South View High School.
The players were forced to change hotels and stay an extra night. On top of that, East Surry faced a potential triple header the next day.
âWe have to be mentally strong; control what we can control, âFreeman told his team. âYou can’t let these things get into your head. If you do, you are setting yourself up for failure.
âOur losses were not the result of our children letting these things affect them. They reacted wonderfully to all adversity. I cannot repeat enough how proud I am of their attitude and effort. It is the result of having excellent parents who taught them well.
Game 1 continued on Sunday afternoon as Thach scored a 2 RBI brace to give Perquimans a 3-2 lead late in the third set.
The advance lasted until the start of the fifth round. Evan McCreary of the East led with a single but was called out on a defensive shot from Caden Lasley. The defensive player covering second base dropped the ball when he attempted to turn a double play, but the referee ruled that McCreary was still out at second.
Carson Willoughby put Lasley in second with a center single. Luke Bowman put the Cards back in front with a 2 RBI brace that hit the fence in right center field.
The Pirates responded in the bottom of the sixth after pitcher Cardinal Luke Brown hit two hitters and walked another to charge the bases. Perquimans hit a pop fly to left field which was caught by Trey Armstrong. Armstrong dropped the ball as he scooped it up from his glove to throw it home, but still managed to throw the throw to Anthony Ayers to catch a runner trying to move up to third.
A field referee said Armstrong’s capture was not a withdrawal and, after two long periods of deliberation between the four referees, the decision was upheld. The plate umpire explained that the decision was a “judgment”.
East Surry got out of the sticky situation by quickly securing the next two strikeouts.
Perquimans left the race victorious on base late in the seventh as the teams headed for extra heats. East Surry gave up two runs in the eighth inning and Bowman was third in the top of the 10th. However, the Cardinals couldn’t find their way back to the plate.
Benji Gosnell, now a pitcher for East Surry, notched a crucial strikeout with two runners in the bottom of the ninth. Thach doubled up in the next heat, and his courtesy runner moved up to third on a feint. Jackson Russell hit a ground in left field to score the runner and give the victory to Perquimans in Game 1.
Surry East – 0, 2, 0, 0, 2, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0 = 4
Perquimans – 0, 0, 3, 0, 0, 2, 0, 0, 0, 1 = 5
Game 2 began after a 30-minute intermission with the home and away teams traded. Folger Boaz pitched for East Surry and threw three strikeouts early in the first, but not before Perquimans could score on a Cardinal mistake. East tied the score at 1-1 when an Ayers RBI scored Willoughby late in the inning.
The Pirates scored another point early in the second before East scored a big point. Ayers and Willoughby were on base when Bowman was beaten with two strikeouts. Gosnell hit a third-place goal that was mismanaged by Perquimans, allowing Ayers to score. Boaz scored Willoughby and Bowman with a single 2RBI.
Perquimans failed to score in the third inning, but tied the score with a run in the fourth and fifth innings. The Pirates regained the lead early in the sixth scoring three runs: twice on wild throws and once on a single RBI.
East fired back in the bottom of the sixth when McCreary hit a right field single. McCreary was out of the bag when Ayers called out and the Perquimans wide receiver tried to pull him out early. McCreary took off for second base, so the first baseman caught the throw from home plate and sent the ball to second.
Instead of finding the second baseman’s glove, the pitch hit McCreary in the helmet, causing him to stumble towards the second baseman. After some deliberation between the referees, McCreary was called up and disqualified from the match for what the referee called “malicious contact”.
A similar play occurred in the start of the seventh when a pirate base runner failed to slip while stealing second and collided with Willoughby of East. He was removed due to the tag, but not disqualified.
East Surry was not done fighting at the end of the seventh. Bowman hit a double down center left with one out on the board. Gosnell called with a single by mistake when the Perquimans first baseman dropped the ball.
The runners sat in the corners when Boaz came to bat. He sent the ball to left field on a hit, but it was called a foul. Boaz followed with an RBI single to right field that scored Bowman and reduced the lead to 7-5.
A wild throw from Perquimans moved Gosnell to third and Boaz to second. However, the Pirates pulled out the next two Cardinal batters at bat to end the game and the streak.
Perquimans – 1, 1, 0, 1, 1, 3, 0 = 7
Surry East – 1, 3, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1 = 5
East Surry have won 17 straight games in the 2021 season.
This year’s Cardinals won the school’s 18th Conference Championship and its fourth Western Regional Championship. East Surry also maintained a tradition of having Boaz named Conference Player of the Year. This marks the eighth consecutive year that an East Surry player has been named Conference Player of the Year.
Freeman recorded his 100th career victory this season.
âWhen the dust settles, they (the players) can look back and be proud of everything they’ve done in a COVID year,â Freeman said. “With everything we’ve been up against this year, winning the conference title again, having a great run in the playoffs, winning the regional title and getting so close to a state title is just amazing.”
While the playing conditions for the State Championship Series were less than ideal, Freeman tries to remember how lucky the team was to be in this position.
âIt’s all about perspective,â he said. âThere were hundreds of teams who would have loved to be in our place on Sunday. They would have gladly played two or three times in a row in this heat because they realize how difficult it is to get there. East Surry has had a great baseball program for 40 years thanks to people like Coach [Barry] Hall, but we’ve only done it a few times.
âWe have a wonderful group of kids with big hearts and I am honored to be their coach. Whether we won or lost, I am just proud and extremely grateful to have accompanied this journey with them.