ZEBULON — Team unity led the Holly Springs baseball team all season long, so the division among its seniors when they finally got to hoist the 4-A state championship trophy on Saturday was easy to overlook.
Some wanted to hoist it above their heads in jubilation. Others snatched it down so they could get an up-close look at what they had been dreaming about since they were freshmen.
If their decisions on how to take in the school's first team state championship in any sport differed, their season-long quest to be the best baseball team in the state did not.
After winning Game 1 on Friday night 4-0, the Golden Hawks finished off Asheville Roberson with a 11-5 win at Five County Stadium for the N.C. High School Athletic Association title.
In the school's fifth year of existence, Holly Springs (27-2) ended the season on a 21-game winning streak.
"[The seniors] came in and we were 4-19 the year before, and ever since then we've continued to work hard and they've believed in what we did," said Holly Springs coach Rod Whitesell, who has led the team in each of those five seasons. "To win 21 games in a row is amazing, and that's a testament to them for bringing it every single game and not taking a single night off."
The list of senior accomplishments starts with N.C. State recruit Carlos Rodon, who pitched a complete-game, two-hitter in Friday's win and was chosen MVP of the series. Rodon also went 3-for-6 with one RBI while hitting cleanup for the Golden Hawks.
"We're going to find a way to win, and we'll never give up. We want to win every single game," Rodon said. "We [seniors] built it from the ground up, learned how to play good ball and hopefully became good leaders. And we won the state championship."
One of those seniors, Kyle Byrd, led with his toughness on Saturday.
Byrd, a senior committed to UNC Asheville, made his first start of the year. The designated hitter had missed most of the season after breaking his right leg and ankle during a game in the offseason, but he ended with the most hits of any Hawks player in the two-game series, going 4-for-5 at the plate.
He singled three times on Saturday, driving in two runs.
"I couldn't have come back at a better time. It was already rolling. I just came, stepped in, and things happened," Byrd said. "You couldn't have wrote it up better. As freshmen we were talking about [a state championship] then. It's just great."
Justin Manning, who picked up the win in Game 2 after going 41/3 innings and allowing three runs on seven hits, also led his team with four RBIs in the series, including two on Saturday.
Manning appeared to be in trouble on the mound in the first inning when Roberson loaded the bases with one out. But third baseman Mike Roach snagged a rocket line drive, then dived onto the base to double up the runner and end the inning.
"[It was] incredible. It changed the game," Manning said. "It was a one-run game, and we busted it open, and that play right there kept us in it."
Just as it did in Friday's win, Holly Springs scored in only two innings on Saturday.
The Hawks brought 10 batters to the plate in a five-run fourth inning and then had 10 more come up to bat in a six-run sixth inning.
Roberson got two runs in the seventh, but Joe Mackey - another senior - eventually shut the door on the Rams (25-7).
"I'm proud of them, especially the seniors," Whitesell said. "It's awesome for them to culminate their high school career that way."
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