Washington’s Fox, Brooks crowned as club Pirates win title

Published 11:38 pm Thursday, June 1, 2017

HOLLY SPRINGS — Nick Venditti drilled a base hit over the left side in the 10th inning of Thursday’s National Club Baseball Association World Series championship game. Head coach and Washington native Ben Fox waved Tyler Sholar in from second, and the Pirates broke a scoreless tie to beat Central Florida, 1-0, to win the national championship.

“I told him if a base hit happens, we’re going to try because we aren’t staying here all night,” Fox said. “Right before, we had a little meeting and I said, ‘Base hit, I need you on your horse. You need to slide to the outside, we need to score and we need to get out of here. … Thankfully, we’re national champions.

“This means everything to me. These guys have been here with me for a long time. They trusted me in my first year and it means everything to me.”

Washington’s own Ben Fox, head coach of the ECU club baseball team, poses with the NCBA National Championship trophy.

There was a strong Beaufort County following in attendance. Among then was Alan Swain. He jumped onto the field as soon as the home-plate umpire ruled Sholar safe.

“Ben’s my best friend. This is all I could imagine for him,” Swain said. “I’ve been so excited for him the whole tournament. I listened to every press conference. To be here, it’s like I won, but I didn’t.”

Fox added, “Everything I’ve ever done, they’ve been with me. For them to be here for this, it’s everything. I’m so glad they could be here. (Swain) was the first one on the field, and I didn’t expect anything less. We’ve been best friends since we were six. Him and Dennis and Corey. All my Beaufort County boys, they showed up.”

Former players, parents and fans followed Swain’s lead and joined the Pirates on the field as they celebrated their national championship.

ECU pitcher Tanner Duncan and UCF’s Kenneth Donaldson dueled for nine innings. Each pitcher allowed four hits apiece as the Pirates and the Knights put on a defensive clinic in the club baseball finale.

ECU pitcher Tanner Duncan throws to a UCF batter. He was nothing short of phenomenal as he struck out 14 in a 10-inning, complete-game shutout.

Duncan had an answer for everything Donaldson did. The Pirate starter dazzled as he struck out 14 batters while only issuing two walks over 10 innings in his complete-game shutout.

“This is what he does. He’s the best to ever do it for us,” Fox said of Duncan’s phenomenal outing. “He’s unreal. There’s not much you can say about him because, time and time again, big game after big game, he strikes out people. He keeps us in the game. He keeps us from allowing runs. I was blessed to have him.”

Duncan added, “This is what I’ve been preparing for all year. … I’ve had a lot of success this year. I still expected to be successful, but not that successful. I’ve got to give it to my defense. I think they had one error in the two games I threw. It was a team effort. It wasn’t all me.”

Another Washington product, Hatteras Brooks, watched on in awe of what Duncan was accomplishing on the mound. He threw seven innings in Sunday’s 17-0 win over Nevada.

“This is unbelievable. We put in a lot of hard work. Now I look forward to life and what that brings me because that was it right there,” Brooks said. This was his last year of eligibility. “… It was awesome to watch. Tanner pitched a great game. I’m a pitcher’s guy, so it’s always fun to watch pitching duels.”

Beaufort County natives Ben Fox and pitcher Hatteras Brooks hug each other as the Pirates celebrate their championship.

Before walking off with the title, ECU’s best chance to break through came in the bottom of the fourth when Jacob Merzigian led off by lacing a standup double down the left-field line. Abel Hernandez followed up by drawing a four-pitch walk, and John Dudley was hit by a pitch to load the bases with two outs.

ECU’s club baseball team poses for a team photo after solidifying their spot atop the nation.

Donaldson rebounded from the shaky start to the frame by inducing a groundout back to himself to escape unscathed.

ECU’s defense retired the Knights in order in four innings. Merzigian, the catcher, was able to gun down two baserunners in the game.

Venditti was the only Pirate to collect multiple hits. Sholar, Merzigian, Logan Sutton and Walker Gaddis all had a hit, too.