From the ground up

Published 3:06 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2014



12U All-Stars win championship 29 years in the making

HICKORY — The Washington 12U baseball team hoisted the coveted Tarheel State Championship trophy this weekend for the first time in 29 years, a historic feat for a team that struggled to find its identity at the culmination of the all-star season.

“From my perspective, one day some kids would step up and another day other kids would step up,” said head coach Harvey Case. “It wasn’t like it was one or two players who carried us, it was just a great team effort throughout.”



What ended with the second Tarheel Championship in team history began as a blank slate, a collection of players with different skillsets, most of which have never played together before.

Case, along with assistant coaches Sean Weaver and Tony Hale, felt it necessary to start from scratch, practicing almost daily and focusing on fundamentals.

This was a squad that needed to be built from the ground up.

The coaching staff scheduled a handful of early invitational tournaments to prepare for the Tarheel District VII Tournament scheduled for July 6 in Washington. A mixed bag of talent, Washington failed to find the catalyst on offense early in the season. The team went 2-2 in its first invitational tournament in Winterville.

With expectations so high entering the season, the split result was humbling and a week later, the team would try its luck in the Belhaven invitational. Again, the offense was dormant, but the level of competition exposed the young hitters to faster pitching and gave the coaching staff a blueprint for improvement.

The final invitational before the district tournament was in Jamesville, where the team’s struggles at the plate only continued. With a 1-2 record entering the final inning of the last game, coach Weaver took extreme measures to jumpstart the offense.

“We challenged the kids to relax and hit the ball,” Case said. “Coach Weaver jokingly told the kids that if they got a certain amount of hits in that last inning, he was going to wear a pink tutu to the district pregame batting practice. The kids got out there and hit the ball well and sure enough, he comes back out there at district in a pink tutu. We went on to win our first game.”



The win over Edenton in the district tournament opener gave Washington a much-needed boost of confidence moving forward. Baseball being a sport shrouded in superstition, coach Weaver continued to wear that flamboyant pink tutu before every game. It was a simple, playful and groundbreaking gesture that injected a shot of adrenaline into a lineup that needed a spark.

“You have to jell sometimes. We experimented with batting orders, leadoff men and a number of things,” Case said. “We wanted to win the tournament, but we kept telling the kids that our job was to try to get better. I think that’s what happened. We started coming together as a team, trusting each other.”

As the team came together as one, the wins piled up. Eventually, Washington found itself in the Tarheel District VII 12U Tournament Championship, matched up against the same Edenton team from the first round.

By the third inning, Washington had a commanding 7-0 lead, spurred by starter Logan Hale’s homerun to right field. Despite a late-inning Edenton comeback, Case’s team answered and came through with a 9-5 victory.

“Obviously, the pink tutu became a part of Coach Weaver’s uniform entering the state tournament,” Case said.



On the surface, Washington’s season was a continuous work in progress and a rollercoaster of shifting expectations.

Last week’s Tarheel State tournament featured some of the best all-star squads in the area. While Case knew the road would not be easy, his team remained confident and devised ways to manufacture runs.

“Sometimes it’s survival in these kinds of tournaments,” Case said. “You need to figure out how to win the game at hand and move forward. “

In the first game of the double elimination style tournament, Washington’s lineup was immediately put to the test against Ashe County. With the opponent holding an 11-10 lead entering the bottom of the sixth, a first-round loss looked imminent, until Ben Beach navigated his way to second with one out on an error and a stolen base.

Colby Case followed with a double that tied the game at 11 and Logan Hale came through with the walk-off single, sending Washington to the next round of the winners’ bracket. A lineup that once struggled to string together runs had posted 12 with 13 hits, including three homeruns, in the first game.

A six-run third inning in the second game against Hildebran gave the team an 8-4 victory and a quality start from Harrison Schmidt against Cleveland County propelled Washington to the championship.

“Our philosophy was to do everything to stay in the winners bracket,” Case said. “Once you’re in the loser’s bracket, you have a tough road to climb. That was part of the challenge.”

Washington adhered to that philosophy.

Cleveland County, an area known for quality baseball, entered the weekend as one of the favorites to take the title, reaching the championship game with a win over Shelby. A resurgent Washington team was all that stood in its way.

With an opportunity to hand Washington its first Tarheel State Championship in 29 years, Ben Beach toed to rubber for coach Case.

By the end of the third inning, the score was 2-1 Washington, an uncharacteristically low-scoring affair for a team that hit three homers in the first round game.

Cleveland tied the game in the fourth, but an error, walk and a double from Robert Pollock put Washington back on top by two.

Known for a high-powered offense, Cleveland led off with a homerun to narrow the lead to one run, once again. Beached powered through the fifth and came out for the final inning.

After the first out, the Washington starter walked the next batter, putting the tying run on base. However, Beach came through and picked off the runner at first for the second out.

The final batter hit a chopper to Beach, who calmly tossed the ball over to first, ending the game and locking up the championship.

“We coached a lot of kids that had high character,” Case said. “They were just good kids with great attitudes. They listened to what we said, they worked hard and were at practice every day with great parents to support them.

“In this journey of ours, we got better every time we stepped on the field. We are a far better ball team now than we were when we first came together in early June.”



Hundley Stallings

Robert Pollock

Ben Beach

Colby Case

Logan Hale

Harrison Schmidt

Matt Oehrli

Brodie Moore

Bryson Sawyer

Mason Weaver

Patrick Lovenberg


*The information provided in this article was provided with the help of head coach Harvey Case.