State Champs

The 1979 Pinecrest baseball team earned a state 4-A championship. They are the only Patriot baseball team to claim a state title in the 50-plus year history of the school.

In the midst of a wild celebration on the field after the Pinecrest baseball team won the state 4-A baseball championship in 1979, Randy Calcutt says none of the players could have realized then the magnitude of what they had done.

Calcutt was a senior and the starting first baseman on that team. He said after the game that winning the state championship “was a dream come true.”

He and the other members of the team have been sharing memories on the 40th anniversary of winning what has been the school’s only state baseball title.

Pinecrest shutout Charlotte Garinger 7-0 on June 6, 1979 at a packed Patriot stadium, which was later named in memory of legendary coach John Williams, who died in November 1990 in a vehicle-train accident.

“I remember the details of that game like it was last night,” said Gary Hall, who was a junior and the third baseman. “What a team and what a Coach!”

Hall and Calcutt will forever be connected in Pinecrest baseball lore. Hall, who lives in Castle Hayne, fielded a one-hopper to third and threw the runner out at first to Calcutt for the final out.

“We mugged each other on the mound,” Hall recalled, as the other players piled on. “I will never, ever forget that night as long as I live.”

Hall was also responsible for the final two runs of the game with a two-run homer.

Calcutt said one of things he will never forget is the huge crowd that turned out for the game. 

“The stands were packed, people were standing everywhere,” said Calcutt, who teaches masonry and core and sustainable construction at Pinecrest. “Cars were parked behind the outfield fence. It was an incredible atmosphere. It was exciting.”

Pinecrest had defeated Garinger 8-3 in the opener of the best-of-three state championship. The late Mike Antle, another giant in the storied history of Pinecrest baseball, got the win on the mound in game one.

Hall noted that Antle was equally lethal with his bat, going six-for-eight in the series with three doubles and a home run in game two.

“Still the best hitter I ever saw or played with,” Hall recalled. 

Tim Maples, the other half of one of the most dominate pitching rotations in the state, was on the mound for game two.

Both were seniors and both would go on to become professional prospects. Maples was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles and played several years in their minor league system, making it to Double A.

Antle, who died in June 2014 at the age of 53 from mesothelioma in Montana, played briefly in the San Francisco farm system.

Antle went to North Alabama after graduation, along with Scott Jordan, another member of the 1979 team who has since passed away.

After a year, Antle transferred to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he joined fellow Patriot Hall, who was a year younger and was a freshman.

“He was quite the legend there,” Hall said of Antle’s three years in Wilmington during a celebration of Antle’s life in Southern Pines in June 2014. “He made the All-Decade team.”

Hall recalled a game against college baseball powerhouse South Carolina. The Gamecocks were ranked No. 5 in the country. He said Antle pitched a complete game, striking out 12 batters in the 5-1 win.

“It was one of the best games I ever saw him pitch,” Hall said.

Antle was scouted by several pro teams after finishing at UNC Wilmington and signed with the San Francisco Giants, playing minor league ball for a year in 1984 before injuries forced him to retire.

After the celebration ended and the 1979 state 4-A baseball championship trophy had been presented to Pinecrest that night, Antle summed up the team’s greatest trait — “togetherness.”

Calcutt said in an interview last week that the guys on that team genuinely liked each other and were friends on and off the baseball field. Many of them played together on the legendary Pirates little league team coached by his late father, Willis, who passed away in May 2017. They went 88-0.

“Some of us had been together our whole playing careers to that point,” Calcutt recalled.

The 1977 team, Calcutt’s sophomore year, made the state playoffs, but the 1978 campaign did not go as well with the loss of several seniors from the year before. That provided the motivation for the team the following year.

Maples, Antle and Calcutt and some other guys who had played together since their little league days were not accustomed to losing. They redoubled their commitment to win.

Everything seemed to come together in 1979 for a close knit group of players.

Jack Brown, who was a junior catcher that year, would go on to become a high school baseball coach down on the North Carolina coast. He shared his memories in a Facebook post about the team and his teammates.

“As a retired baseball coach myself, coaching some pretty good teams and great players, I can say our team had ball players,” Brown said. 

He cited things such as speed, great arms, long ball threats, power to all fields, quality defense at pretty much each position and the best high school pitching staff in the state and possibly the nation.

He said most importantly it had “the intangibles that are missing today.”

“We worked at it, and had a passion for the game. We had a blue collar mentality,” Brown said. 

Brown said coach Williams held practices at 6 a.m. and after school. In bad weather, they practiced in an old tobacco barn.

“Lastly we were a TEAM, a band of brothers!!” Brown said. “Coach Williams was old school, he knew what he was doing. Those Midland Road runs and early a.m. practices, tobacco barn practices, formed the bond needed for the gel to form. What a Team!”

Calcutt agreed about the bond among the players that year.

“We worked so hard,” Calcutt said. “I just felt like we deserved it. We earned that championship. We were not going to be denied. We were confident.”

Calcutt said everyone played together as a team.

“No one was concerned who was getting the credit,” he said. “Mike and Tim were sort of the superstars. But we all knew our roles and what we had to do.”

Calcutt said he tried to instill that sense of “unity” and teamwork in the girls’ softball teams he coached.

Calcutt said no one then could have realize just big it was to win a state championship. No other team in the school’s now 50-year history has done it.

Current coach and athletic director Jeff Hewitt says it is the greatest team in school history. And that is saying a lot.

Calcutt said some of the teams since then have featured some future major league players. 

Maples’ son, Dillion, is currently playing for the Chicago Cubs. Seth Maness, who graduated in 2007, was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals following a stellar college career at East Carolina University. He pitched in the 2012 World Series against the Boston Red Sox.

He has since been picked up by the Texas Rangers and is with their Triple A team in Nashville.

And then there is James Baldwin, who graduated in 1990 and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox. He was the winning pitcher for the American League in the 2000 All-Star game.

“There have been some really good players at Pinecrest,” Calcutt said. “That just tells you how hard it is to win a state championship. We did it. We earned it. We were a part of something very special.”  

Members of the 1979 team were honored in a ceremony before a game in March 2016 between Pinecrest and Dixon High School where Brown was the coach.

Brown wore No. 21 in memory of Antle.

“It is an honor to be a part of Patriot baseball history,” Brown said before the game.

A number of former players — including Maples, Brown, Hall and Calcutt — former assistant coaches Bob Kennedy and Larry Riggan, and even one of the scorekeepers, Robin Calcutt, a longtime Moore County educator who is married to Randy, were recognized on the field. On a side note, Randy was not the only Calcutt who played at Pinecrest. His brothers — Rodney and Chris — also played for the Patriots. Just this past season, Bryce Calcutt, the son of Chris, who is currently a coach for the Patriots, was named the conference player of the year in baseball.

It was a special night for all of them, as they laughed and shared memories of that remarkable season.

They also remembered Williams.

“He was a great coach and man,” Brown said that day, a sentiment echoed by everyone who played for Williams.

Antle’s sister, Cindy Hillbinger, who lives in Greensboro, was also there. 

“It is bittersweet,” she said later while walking to the outfield fence to pose for a photograph with Brown in front of her brother’s retired No. 21, which is next to Tim Maples retired No. 9 and Williams’ No. 25. “This is very special. It is an honor to be here and be a part of this.”

On a personal note, I was on the field that night covering the game for The Sandhill Citizen newspaper in Aberdeen, having been hired as the Pinecrest sports reporter in late 1978 during my junior year.

After the pre-game ceremony that night, Maples stepped out on the mound to throw the ceremonial first pitch to Brown, who was also a catcher on the 1979 team.

Walking off the field, a smiling Maples said, “that was a great night.”

Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or dsinclair@thepilot.com.

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