High School Sports

First Chris Combs ALS Baseball Classic raises thousands in research

Chris Combs speaks to the crowd between games with players from Leesville Road and Broughton behind him during the Chris Combs ALS Classic at NCSU on Thursday, April 20, 2017.
Chris Combs speaks to the crowd between games with players from Leesville Road and Broughton behind him during the Chris Combs ALS Classic at NCSU on Thursday, April 20, 2017. newsobserver.com

The great Lou Gehrig would have been proud.

Ditto for North Carolina and New York Yankees legend Catfish Hunter, who died in 1999 of Lou Gehrig’s disease – properly known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and named for the prewar Yankee icon.

A quartet of Raleigh high school baseball teams got together for the inaugural Chris Combs ALS Baseball Classic doubleheader Thursday on a proverbial perfect night at Doak Field at Dail Park.

The fundraising twin bill honored Combs, an associate director for The Wolfpack Club, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease last May 2 and has spent much of his time since raising awareness of the disease and the funds to help fight it.

In the nightcap, Millbrook sent 16 batters to the plate in a 10-run fourth inning and beat Broughton 11-2.

In the opener, Leesville Road put up nine runs in the fourth inning in a 16-2 blowout of Sanderson that was stopped on run differential after 4 1/2 innings.

“This is great, especially for our first year,” said the 6-foot-7 Combs, who says he has trouble with fine motor skills like buttons and handwriting but otherwise appears as the jovial, gregarious former big-time athlete he has always been. “The support from the schools has been incredible, and it’s a beautiful night for baseball.”

Millbrook had won the first meeting with Broughton 5-1 at home on St. Patrick’s Day.

Thursday’s result improved the Wildcats to 12-7, 8-2 and in a tie with Leesville Road for first place in the Cap-8 Conference. Broughton fell to 3-15 and 2-8.

Dennis Delgado doubled twice to lead Millbrook, which got three hits with an RBI and a stolen base from Tyler Snead along with a double and a single for two RBI from Justin Wilcoxen.

“It just felt different coming to this game,” Millbrook coach Austin James said. “The Combs family is special to our program and we were really excited to be a part of it. When we were approached about it, it was a no-brainer. And we got the inning we’ve been waiting on for two or three weeks.”

Broughton finished with five hits, the key being an RBI single from Penn Sealey during the two-run fifth that prevented the game from being stopped early.

“This event was amazing,” said Broughton coach Jere Morton IV. “It means a lot because of the name on the front of our jersey – to represent Broughton for the Combs family. We’ve got a young bunch, so it was important we could extend the game to a full seven innings.”

The Pride had won the first matchup with Sanderson 4-0 in eight innings on St. Patrick’s Day, but Thursday’s matchup in the twilight contest was all Leesville.

The win improved Leesville to 12-8, 8-2 in CAP-8 action. Sanderson fell to 7-11 and 4-6.

Leadoff man and catcher Landon Choboy led the Pride with three hits including a grand slam and six RBI. Jared Leins added three hits with an RBI and a stolen base in the Pride’s 15-hit attack and also struck out two in a scoreless fifth inning.

Lefty Will Sandy pitched the first four innings in the win, allowing two runs on four hits while striking out five against one walk.

“This is a great event for a great cause, and we were just privileged to be invited to play here tonight and contribute a little big to this foundation and help Chris and his family out,” Pride coach Guy Civitello said. “We’re going to come back as long as they invite us.”

Robbie Houston led Sanderson with a double and a single.

“It was a tough day for the Spartans, but we’re really glad to be here and get to be participants in this awesome event,” said Sanderson coach Todd Laughlin. “The Combs family is a huge part of the community and especially the baseball community. Ryan (Chris’ brother) and Chris have done a great job of putting this together.”

The four umpires in each game donated their pay. Each of the teams sported “Team Chris Combs” warmup T-shirts in school colors donated by Johnson-Lambe Sporting Goods in Cameron Village.

CHRIS COMBS CHALLENGE

Chris Combs is also scheduled to be honored at Fenway Park on Saturday, when the Wolfpack takes on host Boston College in the sixth-annual ALS Awareness game. That contest, which began to honor former Eagles captain Pete Frates who was diagnosed with the condition in 2012, will be televised on ESPNU.

“Hopefully we can raise money and awareness about ALS and the kids have had a great experience playing in a ballpark like this,” Chris said. “Being told you have ALS is the worst day off your life. But the support we’ve received from friends and family and people in the community we didn’t really know has been amazing.”

Team Chris Combs has already raised over $1 million to fight the progressive neurodegenerative disease.

“ALS is a tough disease,” said Jerry Dawson, President and CEO of the Jim “Catfish” Hunter chapter of the ALS Association, who said over 800 North Carolinians have the disease. “But four new genes (associated with the disease) have been identified since we raised awareness with the ice bucket challenge. This is a very exciting time and a hopeful time. About 55 clinical trials are going on right now.”

In conjunction with the game the four schools are also raising money for Saturday’s Triangle Walk to Defeat ALS, and the teams are set to walk in the event. The team that raises the most money will receive a new set of game jerseys from Johnson-Lambe.

Chris, who both pitched and played first base, was a 1997 fifth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates and played in the organization from 1997-2001.

Chris, 41, and Ryan, 37, a former pitcher who is heavily involved in the ongoing fundraising and was instrumental in putting together Thursday’s event, starred at both Broughton and N.C. State.

“I’m blown away by the support,” Ryan Combs said. “I didn’t anticipate this many people. We’ve raised about $20,000 and $10,000 of it was at the door. It’s been a huge success. It’s been awesome to watch my brother fight this. I don’t know if I would have had the strength myself. But he’s taken it head-on. He’s not going to sit back and let it beat him.”

The Combs brothers’ father Francis Combs, who was Hunter’s catcher at Perquimans High before a career with the Wolfpack and four seasons in the Yankees’ organization, has been involved with Wolfpack sports broadcasts for over 50 years.

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