By Margaret High
The weather going into Game 3 of the 2A state championship baseball series was symbolic of the entire tournament.
Things weren’t looking good. Menacing clouds surrounded Five County Stadium. Rain kept threatening to downpour, but it held off to a mild soaking. Lightening strikes kept coming down in the distance, causing eyebrows to rise.
That was Whiteville going into Game 3. The Wolfpack lost Game 1 to Ledford in a blowout 10-0 in five innings, creating a lot of worry going into Game 2. Even with senior Brooks Baldwin on the mound, Whiteville gave up three runs to Ledford.
More people came to Game 3 than the previous two. Teachers, former players, high school freshmen and lots of little children made it to Zebulon to witness some of the magic of Whiteville baseball.
Ledford started strong. The Panthers love to steal bases, and they did just that throughout the innings. They took a 4-2 lead going into the fifth inning, tasting our blood.
Coach Byron Tedder started yelling at the boys in Whiteville uniforms in the dugout. “Come on, we’re not done here! Quit acting like it.”
He was right. Talking to Dylan Lawson at the end of the game, he said they had to search for their will to win. They easily could’ve flopped over, saying it wasn’t fair that Ledford has 586 more students than Whiteville.
Yet if there’s one thing Whiteville baseball fans know, it’s to never discount a Harwood. Jake Harwood started on the mound, sporting the last name that has enjoyed at least three generations of Whiteville baseball success.
Brooks Baldwin, who also has generations of Whiteville blood, stole two bases in the fifth inning to bring home the first of four runs.
Whiteville was revived. Maybe it was the homemade posters by Susan Smith and Michelle Strickland that rallied the crowd and the players. Or maybe it was Jake Harwood sprinkling dirt after making it to second base and taking attention away from another Whiteville player sliding to home. The energy was just as electric as the lightening strikes. Whiteville was making its thunder.
T-ball players wearing camo hats stared in awe behind home plate. They’re the next generation, the next boys to wear blue and orange and hopefully make it back to a state championship under Coach Harwood’s direction.
Sports announcers say it all the time: there’s something in the water in Whiteville. Maybe that’s true.
But the water in Whiteville doesn’t give players the internal drive it takes to win a state championship game. Water doesn’t give players the ability to overcome a two run deficit in an all-out brawl of a baseball game. Water doesn’t give players the ability to read a pitch and steal a base uncontested.
The Whiteville water does come out of the player’s bodies in sweat and tears. As Brett Harwood hugged his father and former coach Arnold Harwood, you can’t ignore their passion for the game. Then Brett hugged his son and former Whiteville state champion Hunter Harwood. Then he hugged his son who just won another state championship, Jake Harwood.
Three generations of Harwood’s stood on the pitch in Zebulon Saturday night with tears in their eyes and watched fireworks explode above their heads. Despite all the rings they’ve earned, it’s clear this one means just as much.
The town touts the title “Baseball Town, USA,” but that discredits how hard the Whiteville team has worked to win this championship. Blame it on our water. Blame it on whatever there is possible; it was the desire to win that puts the 2018 squad in state championship history.