Mustang Baseball Confident Heading into Tourney
North Moore will try to match last year's miracle run to the Yadkin Valley Conference baseball tournament championship in a first-round match with Chatham Central at Bear Creek Monday night it was learned late Friday night.
Last season the Mustangs began tournament play in fourth place and, after winning the opener, upset top-seeded Chatham when head coach Bob Collins played a hunch and started freshman Levi Morris in the second round. The rest was history. Morris befuddled the Bears' hitters and set the stage for conference Player of the Year Steven Davis to pitch North Moore to victory in the championship game. Winning the tournament also won the Mustangs a home game in the first round of the state 1-A playoffs.
"We're playing well right now," North Moore head baseball coach Bob Collins said after Wednesday night's final regular-season game, a 7-1 thumping of the Jordan-Matthews Jets. "Hopefully, we can continue on next week and keep going."
If lightning should strike twice, it would produce an even more improbable season-ending run than last year's spectacular finish that extended the season to the second round of the playoffs. Although the Mustangs' fast finish produced three big wins and a one-run loss in the last four games, giving them a better conference mark than the 2007 edition, it was only good enough for fifth place in the wild and wooly YVC. Hence the road game in the first round of this year's tournament.
In 2007 North Moore rode the strong left arm of Davis on the mound, and his big bat at the plate, to pull off the improbable run. The presence of UNC Wilmington signee Davis, along with the presence of a team full of playoff-tested veterans, pegged the Mustangs as one of the preseason favorites to win it all in the YVC.
Disaster struck when Davis was sidelined with a fractured right foot at Chatham Central in the fifth game of the season. He was feared lost for three-to-six weeks, and possibly for the rest of the season. North Moore struggled, but hung in there without the all-state performer, performing well-enough to stay in position to mount another late run.
"This was a total team effort," Collins said of the season. "Everyone contributed almost every game, especially the seniors the last couple of games."
J.T. Garner, one of the four seniors, has come into his own as a starting pitcher with four big conference wins, including a complete game against Thomasville Tuesday night. Garner, who plans to attend Sandhills Community College to study engineering in the fall, will probably start game two of the YVC tournament if the Mustangs manage to get by Chatham Central in the first round.
"I'm ready for the tournament," Garner said after a rare non-pitching performance Wednesday night. "I'm ready to go. I wish it was tomorrow. We've been playing real well and we've really brought it together."
Senior Josh Sheffield, who plans to attend automotive school in the fall because he has a passion for working on cars, also has a passion for baseball. Sheffield has played both left field and right field in addition to duties as a pinch hitter and pinch runner. Like Garner, he is pumped up about how the team is going right now.
"These last two games we came together and won," Sheffield said. "We started struggling at the beginning of the season. I'm just glad that we came together at the end of the season, and came back and won a few games. We're hoping to go far. I hope we win the conference tournament and get us a first-round playoff game at home."
Unlike his fellow seniors, Garry Yedkois is new to the North Moore program. A talented left-handed pitcher who is also willing to fill in wherever necessary, Yedkois hopes to play some college ball after high school and feels his experience with the Mustangs will help toward that goal.
"I transferred in from Florida," Yedkois said. "It was a big change coming from a 5-A school to a 1-A, but I like it. I like playing here better because there is more playing time ... and the atmosphere is so much better here."
Yedkois has been key as both a starter and reliever, and performed as a designated hitter in addition to pinch running. All of them have thrived on the family attitude that encourages them to do whatever is necessary for the team's success. He is equally optimistic about North Moore's tourney and playoff chances.
The return of Davis on a limited basis after just four weeks was the discovery of a final puzzle piece that might fuel another run at the tail end of the season.
"The first day I went to the doctor's office after three weeks, they said I could come back shortly," Davis said. "Dad and I left straight from the doctor's office and came over here (to the North Moore baseball field). I wore blisters on my hands. I spent time in the cage making sure I was ready to go before I came back."
Davis was used sparingly as a pinch hitter, reliever and designated hitter while quickly working back into a semblance of playing shape. Then, with just four games remaining before the YVC tournament, the team began to jell as a serious contender. Following a tough loss at South Davidson, the Mustangs topped West Montgomery, lost 2-1 to Jordan-Matthews in eight innings, walloped Thomasville 14-4 in five innings on Senior Night, and took revenge on J-M with a strong 7-1 win over the Jets in the last regular-season game. Davis started and completed both games with the Jets, suffering only minor control problems.
"I think he is still not quite in shape," Collins said in reference to a couple of spots where Davis had spotty control. "I think that had a lot to do with it."
But Davis and his teammates seem to be getting stronger with every passing game. Davis got right down to specifics about the scenario for tourney week.
"Unless something ridiculous happens we should finish fifth in the conference," Davis said. "The way it's looking we'll probably play Chatham at Chatham, or West Montgomery at West Montgomery. We're going to have a tough game, no matter what.
"I believe I'm going to throw Monday and, if we win Monday, I believe J.T. is going to throw Tuesday. Then I'll have enough rest where I believe I'll go Thursday in the championship game. I hope we'll do as well as last year when we won the tournament. That would be wonderful."
Collins, of course, agrees.
"I'm proud of them," he said after the Wednesday thumping of J-M. "They played quite well two nights in a row. We hit the ball good two nights in a row. I'm pleased. I'm happy."
Any coach should be happy to have a team come together and start getting it done at exactly the right time of the season. That is the ultimate prescription for success when it comes to playoff baseball.
The prescription gets its first test at Bear Creek tomorrow night at 7 p.m, and the Mustangs can't wait. They feel they have some more payback to deliver before the last game is played, starting with Chatham Central.
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