Jackets never quit on themselves

It wasn’t like they were trying to get out of their running.

No, that wasn’t it. Sure, they maybe had to be told more than once — and in some cases twice — to get the equipment put away after a workout, but practice was practice.

Put the time in, do the work, do it right, and then you can be done.

But a little fun could be had, too.

So when it came time to get their post-practice running in, the Yellow Jackets were going to do it, no questions asked.

Well, one question was asked. This time, anyway.

Instead of the monotony of running foul pole to foul pole in the outfield, the interrogative was posed, could the guys, you know, maybe, um, well, toss the football around, too? Kind of a makeshift, free-for-all pick-up game of touch-football in the outfield.

Whaddya think, Coach?

What was the old quarterback gonna say?

Off they went, bouncing off each other in the spring sun, doing more sprinting and long-distance running playing a goofy backyard game of football than they ever would have done had they just run the poles.

But that was the thing about this Lee County baseball team.

They didn’t know when to stop playing.

At the time of their quick gridiron excursion, the Jackets were in a hole in the Tri-9 Conference standings. Lee County was coming out of a stretch of five road games in less than three weeks, a gauntlet perhaps no team in the vaunted Tri-9 Conference could have cleared unscathed.

And the Jackets hadn’t, either, losing five of six games to fall to 8-10 on the season. Talk of a berth in the state playoffs wasn’t out of reach though, it was said. Win out, and the Jackets would probably still get in.

Win out. Yeah, right. How many under-.500 teams go on a late-season tear to make the playoffs?

But coach Charlie Spivey saw something in this club. It was possibly the best practice club he had been around, and with two state championship rings at home, that’s saying something.

And then the Jackets started preaching what they had been practicing. A convincing win over rival Southern Lee. Down five runs to Cary, only to storm back and win in the late innings. Later, another rally, this one past Fuquay-Varina in the regular season finale, put the Jackets in the postseason.

And they were off.

“From the Southern Lee game on, we really gained a sense of confidence,” says ace Dillon Frye, who may have been the most valuable player to his team than any other still alive this deep in the playoffs. “I think that’s what we needed — just confidence. Southern Lee was a good team and was our rival. So winning that game really helped us gain that extra sense of confidence that we’d been missing. Once we got confident, everything started coming together.”

They blasted a conference champion in Millbrook in the first round, wasting the Wildcats in five innings, the first of four postseason wins for Frye. Lee County knocked off Richmond in the second round, beat Broughton in the third and then watched Apex tie the game in the sixth inning of the fourth.

The Jackets weren’t done though. Frye blasted a two-out, 2-1 pitch high and deep over the center field wall, and the message was sent.

Not until the final out is recorded are these Jackets going to stop playing.

“This group of kids came together and everything clicked at the right time,” says Spivey. “We were 8-10 following a 9-0 loss to Holly Springs and we didn’t give up. We didn’t stop fighting. We didn’t quit. We kept preparing and everything came together for us at just the right time. And we went on to win eight in a row.”

Nothing seemed to go right in Wilmington. Not at first. Laney put it to the Jackets in Game 1 of the East Region final series, clubbing Lee County 11-2.

The Jackets had to sleep on that loss, their worst — and first — since mid-April. Was Laney a juggernaut? Would Frye be ready to go on three-days rest for the first time in his life? Is this the end?

Not without a fight.

Frye was dominant again in the playoffs, recording 10 strikeouts by the time he had reached the fifth inning — his 12th in less than a week, the maximum he was allowed to pitch under state rules. Frye left with a 2-0 lead, Carson Wilson made it 4-0 with a bomb, and Trent Clark hurled two scoreless innings for the save.

The Jackets were alive, forcing a decisive Game 3.

Clark turned around an hour later and started the game. He gave the Jackets everything he had, and left the mound with a 1-0 lead in the fifth.

This time, Laney made the comeback, delivering the final blow to a remarkable Jackets’ season. This would be the end.

But not before Lee County loaded the bases in its last at-bat of the season.

Of course.

“That team had more fight and will in it than I had anticipated,” said Laney coach Vern Baker. “You’ve got to give the Lee County players and coaching staff a ton of credit for coming back the way they did and putting us on the ropes like that. The people in Sanford have a lot to be proud of with that club.”

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Designated Hitter, Lee County High School, Prep sports, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald

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