South Granville right-fielder Tucker Brown and his father walked through the school parking lot talking baseball following the Vikings’ recent 4-3 win that included Tucker throwing out a runner at home plate.
Tucker and his defending state champion teammates had just clinched a return to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A state finals. As Chris Brown got in his car and Tucker hurried to rejoin his teammates, he asked his son where he was headed.
“El Rio,” said Tucker of the small Mexican restaurant in Creedmoor’s quiet community.
As if Tucker’s dad needed to ask. El Rio is the Vikings’ post-game hangout. Pictures of youth baseball and softball teams decorate the entrance walls. El Rio is a holdout against chain restaurants in a small community just across the Wake County line that has resisted urban sprawl.
“They’re good kids,” said Antonio Garnica, one of El Rio’s three local owners. “Their parents raised them well.”
Creedmoor’s kids also are good baseball and softball players. Both South Granville teams are defending their NCHSAA 2A state titles this weekend.
The baseball Vikings beat Randleman last year and they are playing East Rutherford in the best-of-3 series that starts at 8 p.m. Friday at Burlington Athletic Park. Senior pitcher/third baseman Justin Brown, who is committed to UNC Pembroke, was the MVP of last year’s three-game finals.
The softball team defeated Forbush last season and opens a best-of-3 against West Lincoln at 6 p.m. Friday at UNC Greensboro. Senior shortstop Hunter Mundy, who is committed to Radford University in Virginia, hit two home runs last year in the second contest of a two-game sweep.
Loyal South Granville fans may not emulate a scene out of the movie “Hoosiers” with the townsfolk following the team bus in a caravan, but generations past and present turn out. Grandparents in addition to those who still attend games after their children and grandchildren graduated.
It has been that way before and after Major League Baseball pitcher Matt Harrison, an All-Star with the Texas Rangers in 2012 on the injured-reserve list this year with the Philadelphia Phillies, played at South Granville. Harrison was committed to N.C. State when he graduated in 2003 before he was drafted in the third round by the Atlanta Braves and signed.
“It’s a great community with a lot of good players,” Harrison said. “I grew up there and met my wife (Meghan). They are nice people that love their sports. It’s great to think the school I went to can win back-to-back state titles.”
This year’s Vikings feature three college recruited pitchers with Justin Brown (no relation to Tucker) and two early N.C. State commitments, junior right-hander Justin Bullock and sophomore lefty Holden Laws. But Brown says the team bond is deeper that college talent.
“I grew up and went to school with all these guys,” Brown said.
Softball’s Mundy explains the community is tight but not closed. She arrived in Creedmoor as a seventh grader. It can be awkward time, but she has been friends since then with three senior softball teammates, Madison Boyd, Savannah Tilley and Mckenzie Coley.
“They were my first friends,” said Mundy, who hit two home runs in last year’s state finals. “We’ve been together since middle school.”
The last couple of years the softball team has helped with a camp down the road at Hawley Middle School. The contribution helps continue South Granville’s softball tradition established by retired legendary coach Jim Fleming.
“When we see little girls come to our games, we want them to know this is South Granville softball,” Mundy said. “They’re not only inspiring us, we hope we’re motivating them to realize when they come South Granville this is how you play to win. It’s the same for the boys and baseball.”
Coaching stability is a South Granville hallmark. Fleming was succeeded by another long-time softball coach, Jackie Day. Baseball coach Curt Watkins is a 1998 South Granville grad who began coaching the JV team in 2006. He was promoted four years ago to succeed long-time coach Kevin Ferrell.
Another community secret is sharing resources. Bullock’s grandfather John Bullock operated the Bullock Salvage Company in a warehouse-like building on the family’s 250-acre farm. But when John died two years ago, Justin’s father, Todd Bullock, opted not to continue the business. Instead, Todd converted the building into an indoor baseball facility.
“On a Sunday after church, you’ll find the kids working out and the fathers talking,” Todd said. “All the varsity and JV kids can use it.”
South Granville principal Katherine Fuerst is from the school of thought that stable and successful athletic teams help minimize discipline problems on campus. When she took over eight years ago, she continued established traditions and added new touches from her time as a vice-principal at Orange High in Hillsborough, another Triangle community known for respected athletic programs.
“School is about more than athletics,” Fuerst said. “But athletics can bring a school and a community together.”