There’s nothing finer than winning a state championship. Doing it in front of your hometown fans just makes it sweeter.
The Surry County Mudcats pulled off that feat last weekend, capturing the Western North Carolina championship in the age 16-18 division of Babe Ruth Baseball. The team claimed the title in a double-elimination tournament held on July 9-10 at the Surry Central High School ballpark.
The Mudcats locked up the title after a two-day unbeaten run through the field which culminated in a 4-3 victory over Union County, the team they had faced in the championship round of the 2015 tournament. Surry went through this year’s event with victories over each of the other three teams in the field and never sustained a loss of its own.
The Mudcats began tournament play at noon Saturday against MARA, an organization of Charlotte area players based in nearby Matthews. With lights-out pitching by North Stokes graduate Chase Vaden, the Mudcats won 10-3. Because the tournament had started late due to rain, Surry had to play again that evening, in the final of the winners’ bracket against Startown, a team of players from the Newton Conover/ Hickory area. The Mudcats got their second straight outstanding pitching performance, this time from Surry Central rising senior Jed Kidd. Kidd handcuffed the Startown bats, while the Mudcats hammered out a six-run inning en route to a 9-4 victory.
All that remained now was for the hometown team to let the other three teams sort out who Surry’s opponent in the championship round would be. A massive rain storm forced stoppage of play for the night, but Surry Community College baseball coach Tim Collins and Wayne Edmonds worked tirelessly to help the tournament directors get their field ready for play the next day.
The elimination bracket saw Union County, which had lost its opening game against Startown, battle all the way back to the final by beating MARA 10-3 and then Startown 7-4. On Sunday at 3, the two teams met in a rematch of the previous year. However, the tables were turned this time around — in 2015, it was the Mudcats who reached the championship round with a loss and would have had to win twice for the title. This time, Union County had that unenviable task.
It didn’t matter, because the Mudcats had no intentions of losing to them even once, let alone twice.
East Surry graduate Alex Eubanks started on the mound for the Mudcats. He allowed only one run in the first inning and held the hot hitting Union County team for five solid innings.
“Alex didn’t pitch for the East Surry this year, although he pitched the game of his life to win the state championship for Surry County,” said Manager Corey Gammons.
At the plate, the Mudcats jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning and added another run in the fifth when Surry Central graduate Garrett Durham hit a single, stole second base, and advanced to third on an errant throw. East Surry grad Bailey Johnson hit a sacrifice fly to center and scored Garrett with what proved to be the winning run.
Surry was unfortunate not to have a much larger lead. The team had runners in scoring position in every inning, but Union managed to wiggle off the hook several times.
Vaden came in to close the game for the Mudcats. Union County had pushed across two runs in the sixth inning to cut its deficit to 4-3, and then got the potential tying and winning runs on base in the top of the seventh and final inning. With runners on first and third and two out, Vaden struck out the final batter, giving Surry County the championship.
“Chase made quality pitches when he needed to,” said Gammons.
On the offensive side of the ball, the bats were hot all weekend for the Mudcats, from the top of the line up to the bottom.
“The top of our lineup always found a way to be productive, thanks to Alex Eubanks and Tyler Whitaker hitting and bunting when needed,” commented coach Hank Whitaker.
The defense for the Mudcats was solid throughout the tournament, keeping the errors to a minimum and making plays when needed. The infield of Turner Delph (White Plains Christian) on third base, Clay Taylor (Mount Airy) at shortstop, Ethan Danley (Surry Central) at second base and Garrett Durham (Surry Central) at first worked well together, converting five double plays turned in three games. The outfield was just as strong, with Chandler Johnson (Surry Central) in left field making a “Sports Center” like catch during the championship game. Their fellow Golden Eagles Noah Wilmoth in center and Tyler Whitaker in right did not allow a ball to get by them the whole tournament. Chandler Daughenbaugh (Surry Central) caught every pitch and did an outstanding job behind the plate, keeping everything managed on the field.
The coaches for the Surry County Mudcats are Coach Brian Kiser, Coach Hank Whitaker, Coach Brian Johnson, and Manager Corey Gammons. Also on the team and a very integral part of the win and the upcoming regionals were Sean Schendel (Surry Central), Mackenzie Cooke (North Surry).
The Mudcats will head to the Southeast Regionals at Lenoir-Rhyne University to play for a chance to go to the World Series. The regionals start on July 20 and run through July 24. For more information on how to help this team make it to regionals, or for more information about the league in general, contact Gammons at firstname.lastname@example.org.