At first, it was time for reflection.
As the Cary Academy baseball team gathered around home plate, coach Ray Pope told them to be proud of the perfect regular season they had just completed with a 7-0 Monday night victory against Greensboro Day.
There is hardly a school record that hasn’t been broken. The Chargers are 23-0, hitting .465 as a team and averaging 15 hits a game.
“We’ve pretty much beat most of them up,” Pope said. “There might be one or two – walks or something – that’s left.”
But the reflection part of Pope’s postgame talk soon gave way to looking ahead. The N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association playoffs start Friday, and – for once – a Triangle team is expected to compete for the title.
“I told them to be real happy with the season,” Pope said. "But come Friday, it’s one-and-done and the 23-0 season is gone and it starts over.”
It hasn’t been as easy as it sounds for the state’s top-ranked team, and it’s not expected to get easier as it tries for success not seen at the school or the area among NCISAA teams.
“The last two weeks I haven’t slept,” Pope said. “My blood pressure’s been up because everyone’s got a target on your back going ‘OK we want to beat you guys.’ ”
Although the Triangle has produced some of the top N.C. High School Athletic Association teams – like last year’s 4A champ Holly Springs – and has a N.C. Christian Schools Association powerhouse in Wake Christian, the same can’t be said of the local NCISAA programs.
An area NCISAA 3A team hasn’t won a state tournament game since 2009. Those teams – which also include Ravenscroft and Durham Academy – are 3-12 in the last six postseasons (11-24 if area 2A and 1A programs are included).
But Cary Academy knew this season was going to be different – if not after having several of its players be part of a runner-up finish in the Central Carolina Summer Scholastic League last July, then certainly after the season opener in March. The Chargers walloped NCISAA 3A preseason No. 1 High Point Wesleyan Christian Academy, now ranked No. 2 in the state, by a 14-3 score.
“That’s when it hit us that we can do something really good this year,” said senior pitcher/third baseman Tyler Holt.
And it was after a three-game series sweep of rival Durham Academy where Cary Academy players began realizing a perfect season was a possibility.
“Usually against Durham Academy is when we always falter. Last season we had our only two conference losses against them – they always come up and bite us,” said senior pitcher/first baseman Keenan Szulik. “But that week we didn’t play our best ball and we still managed to come out 3-0, and I think that said it all in our mind.”
Pope says although he’s been stressed by the pursuit of perfection – wanting it for the kids who helped him win his 100th game at the school this year – his players will be ready for the postseason run.
Should the Chargers, expected to be seeded No. 1 in the 3A bracket, win a home playoff game Friday, the team will advance to the state quarterfinals hosted by Charlotte Christian School – where Cary Academy lost in last year’s first round – on May 15. The state championship game, set for May 19, is a best-of-three.
Cary Academy has never advanced past the state quarterfinals.
And that’s the school record most worth breaking.