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SHALLOTTE — Around 10 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, on a mild spring night at the West Brunswick baseball field, Trojan coach Mike Alderson handed the Touchstone Energy Beach Diamond Invitational championship trophy to the Richmond Raiders. In the next few weeks, baseball fans in this area will be giving Alderson a different kind of championship sendoff, whether formal or informal, whether in public or in private. The thanks may be as simple as a handshake or a wave, as sincere as a pat on the shoulder or a whisper or a hug.
As Alderson nears the end of his 27-year coaching career with the Trojans, the “Thanks for the Memories” scene Wednesday night most likely will be repeated in the coming weeks.
Recently, West Brunswick’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2004 class 3A state championship baseball team reunited with Alderson in front of the West Brunswick dugout.
“I get teary-eyed when I see them,” Alderson said at the time.
Wednesday, in an informal ceremony after the championship game, Alderson was thanked for his efforts in organizing and sustaining the Beach Diamond Invitational. Alderson clearly appreciated the recognition, but with the conference championship tournament and the state playoffs on his mind, Alderson was not teary-eyed. Too much baseball is left before he walks toward the Trojan dugout for the final time. And when that time comes, coaches will miss him, coaches like Richmond’s Ricky Young.
“I hate to see him go,” Young said. “He’s been a good friend for a long time. He’s a great coach. West Brunswick’s definitely going to miss him.”
Young will miss the top-flight competition Alderson’s baseball teams usually provided. Young coached at West Columbus for 15 years before becoming the head coach at Richmond.
“We were in the same conference for a long time,” Young said, “so I’ve known him for a long time. They’ve always been fundamentally sound. They’re going to make the plays. They’re going to run the bases, put pressure on the defense. Just a very well coached team.”
But even well coached teams will be imperfect at times, and that was the case for the Trojans in a 9-5 loss in the title game against the Raiders. After turning a double play in the fifth inning, three Trojans made three errors that enabled the Raiders to extend a 2-1 lead to 4-1. An error in the sixth inning enabled the Richmond to score one of its two runs in taking a 6-1 lead. And a one-out fielding error in the seventh was the start of a three-run inning. The key hit was a two-run single on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded.
The Trojans (11-9) scored three runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh — taking advantage of two errors, a wild pitch and two walks — but what would have been a fairy tale rally ended with a strikeout with the bases loaded.
“Our kids didn’t quit,” Alderson said. “They kept fighting. I’m proud of that.
“Tonight we made a couple of base-running mistakes early,” Alderson said, referring to runner who stopped midway between third and home plate on a grounder in the first inning. “That’s a scoring ball, there, like a swinging bunt.
“In one inning we had three errors, and when you play a good team like Richmond, you can’t afford to squander those opportunities (to end the inning). The difference in playing 4A schools and most of the other schools is that they don’t beat themselves. They’re sound defensively.”
Richmond junior pitcher Cody Leviner was solid, pitching 6.2 innings of the seven-inning game. Leviner, one of three Raiders on the all-tourney team, gave up seven hits — one a home run by Chandler Taylor in the sixth that cut the lead to 6-2.
“Their pitcher did a great job,” Alderson said. “We hit some balls off of him and had some opportunities. The base-running mistakes hurt.”
Leviner struck out six, walked one and hit one.
“He’s a good pitcher,” Young said. “He was 8-0 as a sophomore for us last year in our run to the Eastern (Regional). He’s had a good year for us this year.
“We got three wins in this tournament, and we consider all three pitchers to be our best.”
Richmond (14-6-1) finished with 12 hits against starter Gray Cheers and reliever Matt Wallace. The Raiders reached the title game by beating South Stanly 1-0 and North Brunswick 5-4.
“I was glad we finally swung the bats,” Young said. “The first two games we didn’t really put many hits up. Tonight, getting 12 hits, that was big.”
The Raiders having been playing well this year. They are tied for first in their conference.
“We have two conference games left,” Young said. “If we can win out, we can win the conference. I hope we make a little run in the playoffs.”
For West, Taylor and Erick Hill made the all-tourney team.
“Chandler’s been hot,” Alderson said. “He’s hitting close to .500 for the season.
“Erick is sound defensively. He’s been starting at second base four years. He’s starting to swing the bat a little bit. He’s hitting over .400. His on-base percentage is even better than that. He’s the table setter for us. When he gets on base, he makes things happen for us — and we make things happen.”
West reached the title game by beating East Columbus 15-0 and South Columbus 14-1.
“There are some other kids that are starting to swing the bat that hadn’t early in the season,” Alderson said. “For us to make a run in the playoffs, the kids that we feel like can swing the bat, they’re starting to swing little bit better. Offensively, I think we’re getting there.”
As Alderson spoke, he leaned against the Touchstone Energy Beach Diamond Invitational billboard so many championship teams posed in front of after receiving the championship trophy. West players did so last year.
“When we first started (in 1999), it was the Beach Diamond Invitational,” Alderson said, “and then several years ago Brunswick Electric, Touchstone Energy got on board with it, and they’ve been a great supporter of this tournament. I hope they keep doing it.
“Years ago, we used to play in a tournament in Wilmington. We went to Spartanburg (S.C.), where I am from, and played some of the teams (coached) by guys I knew a long time ago. I said, ‘Why can’t we just start one here?’ And we did. It’s been going ever since. And I hope it continues.”
When Alderson finished talking, he dragged the billboard toward storage. Next year, during the Easter holiday, the billboard will be dragged out of storage and onto the West Brunswick baseball field by another coach.
North finishes third
The North Brunswick Scorpion beat South Columbus 9-5 in the game third place in the Touchstone Energy Beach Diamond Invitational.
North pitcher Randy Clark gave up three hits and four runs in five innings. He walked one and struck out four.
The Scorpions (14-4) finished with 12 hits. Jared Strange doubled, tripled and had one RBI. Kevon Perkins doubled and had one RBI. Shelton Perkins singled and had one RBI. Shak Graham was 3-for-3 with a walk and one RBI. Tyler Barnes twice singled. Garrett Scoggins hit a two-run single. Davon Perkins singled, doubled and had two RBIs. Chris Graham walked and stole second.
North scored twice in the top of the second on a double by Davon Perkins and a wild pitch.
The Stallions scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth, an inning that began with a dropped third strike, a walk and a double steal. On a 0-2 pitch, a Stallion pinch hitter singled home two runs. A double and wild pitch scored the other two runs.
The Scorpions scored five runs in the top of the fifth in taking a 7-4 lead. Strange doubled home a run and Shak Graham singled, tying the score 4-4
Tyler Barnes singled. With two outs, Clark hit a grounder and was called out although the first baseman mishandled the catch. North appealed and the call was reversed. Scoggins then singled through the left side of the infield, scoring two runs. Davon Perkins singled home the final run of the inning, giving North a 7-4 lead.
North scored twice in the top of the sixth. Strange led off with triple to right field. After a pop-up was dropped, Kevon Perkins doubled home a run and Shelton Perkins singled home a run, giving North a 9-4 lead.
Michael Paul is the sports editor of the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.