This Thanksgiving, Charlie Spivey should cook the turkey for Dean Dease. It would be the least he could do.
Spivey and Dease aren’t just two of the winningest high school baseball coaches in North Carolina whose teams just happened to play against each other in the 3A state quarterfinals last week. They’re cousins by marriage.
“It’s a unique dynamic,” said Dease.
Just as rare as how well Spivey’s Lee County Yellow Jackets have done this season.
After an 8-7 start, the Yellow Jackets captured a sectional championship by holding off Orange 2-1 in Hillsborough, ending the Panthers’ hopes of reaching the 3A Eastern Regional Championship series for the second time in three years.
It wasn’t that Orange (22-5) wasted chances. They wasted best-case scenarios.
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the third with one out, Orange loaded the bases after catcher Brad Debo walked. That brought up cleanup batter Bryce Wilson, second on the team with 22 RBIs. In the unlikely event that he struck out, there was always Braden Weber on deck, tied for the team lead with 26 RBIs.
They both struck out.
Those were the final batters of the night for Lee County starter Trey North, who was relieved by Jake Thomas after three innings.
Orange’s fielding, which had been shaky during the postseason, produced three errors. The costliest came after Quinn Setzer singled to lead off the third. Bo Wicker, No. 9 in Lee’s batting order, laid down a sacrifice bunt, which the Panthers threw away, placing Setzer at third with no outs. Setzer scored after a single by Spencer Faulk to give Lee County a 1-0 lead.
It appeared Orange would escape danger in the fourth, after Drayton Lamb (running for North, who led off with a double) was tagged out at the plate by Debo following a double by Tyler Thomas. But Setzer struck again in the next at-bat with a double to the deepest part of the park, scoring Thomas to give Lee County a 2-0 lead.
Again, the heart of the Orange order would have an opportunity in the sixth. This time, they took advantage when Eli Lockwood scored Wilson on a double. With Weber at third and Lockwood at second with one out, Orange was a routine fly ball away from tying the game.
Thomas retired pinch hitters Cole Campanile and Jonathan Flynn. Orange didn’t have another baserunner after that.
“We just didn’t capitalize,” said Dease. “The guys stayed positive and focused. We just couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it. We swung at ball four about three times. You can’t do that.”
The loss was especially cruel for senior James Cunningham, who threw a complete game, striking out five and giving up eight hits and two runs in his final start.
“He pitched well enough to win,” said Dease. “We should have won. Lee just scored more runs.”
Now Dease will start summer ball with the Hillsborough Hogs in the Central Carolina Scholastic Summer League, knowing the heart of his team will be back next season.
Wilson and Debo will be rising seniors. Sophomore Derek Lindaman figures to replace Cunningham as the second pitcher in the rotation. Weber, Lockwood, left fielder Eric Compton and shortstop Garrett Cloer will graduate in two weeks at the Smith Center.
As Dease aptly put it, baseball is a humbling game, where how you start doesn’t always dictate how you finish. It’s the moment that defines you, and sometimes a whole season.
“That senior group is special,” said Dease. “It’s not every year that you get to the fourth round; 15 or 20 years from now, they’re going to look back on this as something special.”