Garner Cleveland: Sports

Dupree masters the long ball

South Johnston senior first baseman Will Dupree slugged his way to the home run derby title on the opening day, then hit the biggest blast of the tournament in the championship game – a three-run home run in the fifth inning of the Trojans’ 7-3 triumph over Clayton.

Dupree’s shot came off of a left-hander in Clayton sophomore Sam May, which was a bit of a surprise for the left-handed batting Trojan standout.

“I really don’t like left-handed pitching, usually don’t do that well against it,” Dupree said. “Those curveballs are tough to see at times. I was just fortunate tonight to get some counts I could hit in and put the ball in play.”

His Saturday afternoon win in the home run derby kept the title in the family for the fourth straight year. Will’s brother, Matthew, won the last derby held before this year’s edition in 2010.

Weather problems on the opening day of the tournament the past two seasons forced the cancellation of the derby.

Pirates looking for more in second half of season: Corinth Holders coach Jeff Parker said the tournament served as a wake-up call for his Pirates, who have seemed to relax after starting the season with an 8-0 mark.

“We’re much improved from last year,” Parker said. “We haven’t been doing the things we were doing earlier in the year to get there.

“We did a lot of uncharacteristic things (against South Johnston) - we had more walks and more errors in one game than we have had the rest of the year combined, and you can’t do that and beat that kind of a team.”

Parker said he hoped that the Pirates use their fourth-place finish as an impetus to get back to the basics, which got them off to the 8-1 start.

“This tournament showed we could play against more-quality teams than we have been playing,” Parker said. “And It shows we have been rolling over teams and taking things for granted. We learned when you play quality teams that are as good as you, or better than you, you have to play every single out, make every at bat count.”

“We saw this weekend that if we are going to be one of the elite teams, we have to play every play like it’s the last out of the ballgame and go to the plate like its riding on a game-winning hit.”

The Pirates lead the Northern Carolina 2A Conference race.

Cleveland doesn’t get what it wanted: So what did Cleveland coach Jamie Lee think the Rams got out of the tournament?

“Nothing, we came over here to win the tournament,” Lee said. “We didn’t come over here to look good. Everybody comes over here to win, but that our goal.”

Lee had difficulty in finding the words to express his feelings of the weekend, particularly a heart-breaking Tuesday at the hands of reigning 4A state champion Middle Creek which the Rams led 7-0 entering the final two innings only to fall, 8-7.

“Our kids played hard all weekend,” Lee said. “I can’t ask more out of them than what they gave me these three days. They deserve better than what they got.”

Bats start to come around for Spartans: Smithfield-Selma coach David Lawhorn was upbeat in his Spartans’ 1-2 record in the tournament, noting his youthful team had won only its second game of the season with its consolation round victory.

“This is a great tournament,” Lawhorn said. “It’s got a lot of tradition, and it’s fun to come up here and see different teams. It’s good for the kids.”

Lawhorn said that the Spartans had not been swinging the bats real well coming into the tournament, but noted that they had produced a total of 23 runs over their three games. “I think our bats woke up,” Lawhorn said, “And our guys are beginning to learn they can play with anybody if they play a little defense and swing the bats. We know our pitching is good, but we’re not going to blow the ball by anybody. We just have to make more consistent defensive plays.” Lawhorn said the tournament was particularly beneficial for pitcher/infielder James McMillen, who was coming off and injury, Nate Driver and Luis Jiminian.

Banks sets mark for Rams: :Left-handed pitcher Patrick Banks struck out a school record 20 batters for Cleveland in a 5-0 consolation round win on Monday. Banks held the Wildcats to one hit in the victory.