High School Highlights

Cape Fear, Gray's Creek set to duel for softball honors

The last time Cape Fear didn’t win its conference regular-season title in softball was 2013.

But since joining the 3-A Patriot Athletic Conference in 2018, the Colts have had a new rival nipping at their heels, Gray’s Creek.

In that first season together, the only losses Gray’s Creek suffered in conference play were to the Colts. Last season, the teams split their regular-season meetings and shared the regular-season conference championship.

But with Cape Fear losing 16 seniors over the past two years and Gray’s Creek returning some key veteran players, the Bears appear ready to contest the Colts’ string of league titles this spring.Here’s a closer look at both teams:

Cape Fear

Colt coach Jeff McPhail said his team is in a rebuilding mode after so many graduation losses over the last two seasons. “It’s going to be a learning experience for us this year,’’ he said. “The graduating thing caught up with us. We’re all eager to see what we can do this year with these young kids.’’

Toni Blackwell is the most experienced Cape Fear pitcher returning. She was 3-0 last season with a 2.33 earned run average, striking out 38 batters in 21 innings.
McPhail expects the leader of the pitching staff to be freshman Alexza Glemaker. “She’s been doing a good job throughout the fall and winter,’’ McPhail said of Glemaker, who transferred to Cape Fear from the South View district.

The infield will also be dominated by youth, with freshmen scheduled to start at nearly every position.

One of the most experienced players on the team is outfielder Morgan Nunnery, who has been with the Colts four years. She was around as a freshman the last time Cape Fear made the finals of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association softball playoffs.

“She keeps everything together,’’ McPhail said of Nunnery. “She’s done a really good job in the classroom and the softball program.’’

Nunnery, a slap hitter, batted a whopping .671 last season for Cape Fear. She led Cumberland County Schools with 55 hits, including nine doubles and one home run. She scored a county-best 49 runs and drove in 31.

Nunnery said the rich tradition of softball at Cape Fear helps push each year’s players to do their best. “We’ve always been pretty big competitors in our conference,’’ she said. “We are here to represent. You have to play to the standard of Cape Fear softball.

“It means a lot to wear the jersey, having the community behind you.’’

With all the youth on this year’s team, Nunnery said it will be important to develop chemistry early and get to know each other.

McPhail agrees. “For us to be competitive, we’ve got to know each other,’’ he said.

Gray’s Creek

With a veteran lineup returning, Bears’ head coach Stuart Gilmer hopes his team will be able to compete head-to-head with Cape Fear again this season.
Heading the returners for the Bears is one of the best players in the county, Patriot Athletic Conference Player of the Year Jaden Pone.

Pone led all hitters from Cumberland County Schools last season with a .700 batting average. She had seven doubles, six triples and six home runs while driving in a county-best 45 runs.

Also back are Kylie Aldridge who hit .583, Morgan Brady who hit .489, Courtney Cygan who hit .446 and Becca Collins who batted .385. Collins, who plays first base, is the younger sister of former South View star Whitney Sirois Maxwell.

Returning to lead the pitching corps is Madi Bagley, who was 6-2 last season with a 1.03 earned run average. She threw 54 innings and recorded 57 strikeouts.

“Madi has a good fastball and likes to mix in some movement and a changeup now and then,’’ Gilmer said. “She does a good job of hitting
her spots.’’

Gilmer thinks offense is going to be critical for Gray’s Creek to win this season. “Hopefully, our bats can get us in positions early in games where we can get up and help us relax on defense,’’ he said. “We’ve got to be defensively sound. I tell them at practice every day, little things make big things happen. If we take care of little things defensively, big things could happen for us.’’

While the Bears have experience on the field, there are only three seniors on the roster. One of them is Collins at first base.

She thinks the team comes into the 2020 season with a positive attitude and a strong bond as teammates.

Her top goal personally is to improve her reaction to different game situations. “They don’t always go as planned,’’ she said. “How we react to them sets the tone for the next play.’’

While Cape Fear may be the team to beat for conference honors, Collins plans to respect every opponent on the schedule. “We need to think everyone is going to give us a run for our money,’’ she said.

Gilmer is expecting plenty of competition from the traditional powers in the conference. “Cape Fear, South View, Pine Forest and Overhills should all give us a run for our money,’’ he said.

Scholar athletes of the week: 3/04/20

17 01 Amari TaylorAmari Taylor

Pine Forest • Indoor track • Junior

Taylor has a 4.32 grade point average. History is her favorite subject. She loves R&B and jazz, enjoys movies and hanging out with friends. Her dream college is the University of Miami, where she would like to major in premed.

 

17 02 Marquis eskewMarquis Eskew

Pine Forest • Basketball • Senior

Eskew has a grade point average of 3.8. English is his favorite subject. He plans to attend college and major in business entrepreneurship. He has been accepted at East Carolina and North Carolina A&T. He wants to own his own accounting business. He likes listening to rap music and R&B.

Cape Fear’s Wilson, Minacapelli shine in state wrestling tournament

15 Wrestlers groupBack in the late 1960s, veteran character Walter Brennan starred in a short-lived television Western series called “The Sons of Will Sonnet.’’

Though the show lasted only two seasons, Brennan uttered a line describing his talents with a gun that has lingered through the years. It was only four words:
"No brag, just fact.’’

In wrapping up the high school wrestling accomplishments of himself and his Cape Fear teammates the last four seasons, three-time state champion Heath Wilson uttered a statement that borrowed from Brennan’s line, and is hard to argue with.

“We’ve been the most successful athletic program at Cape Fear, even in Cumberland County, since I got to Cape Fear,’’ Wilson said.

He pointed to the last four years that saw the Colts bring home at least two individual state wrestling champions each of those years. Three of the eight state titles Cape Fear won were his, the last one coming just over a week ago when he dominated the 3-A 145-pound weight class in the state tournament in Greensboro to win his title.

He was not alone and teammate Nick Minacapelli had a similarly dominating effort en route to taking the 220-pound championship, erasing the disappointment of finishing third the season before.

For Wilson, one of the biggest obstacles he had to deal with all season was the pressure of chasing a third state title after winning as a sophomore and junior. But Wilson said the pressure to win the second straight championship last year was tougher than the pressure he faced this season.

“Butterflies are normally a routine for me,’’ Dallas said. “Don’t get me wrong, they were there. I knew what I had to do, and I got the job done.’’

Heath Wilson, Dallas’ father and head coach, said the seeds for his son’s string of titles were sown during Dallas’ freshman year, when he came up short in his first bid for a state championship.

Heath scored a lopsided win earlier in the season over the wrestler who would win the state title in his weight class. But he eventually suffered from what his dad calls “sticker shock."
 
“They get in there, look at the lights, look up in the stands,’’ Heath said. “There’s not a whole lot that don’t get wide-eyed.’’ He finished third in the 4-A East Regional tournament that year and lost in the quarterfinals of the state tournament, failing to place in the top six in his weight class that year.

That experience was all Dallas needed to correct the problem. “He blames it on his mental toughness,’’ Heath said. “After that, he decided he was going to fix it.’’
Dallas said he would lie in bed at night and convince himself that no matter who stepped on the mat to face him, he was going to win.

His final record for this season was 48-2, but those two losses were not against any living opponent. After he felt a sharp pain in his knee during a late-season tournament, he elected not to compete, to save himself for the upcoming run to the state finals.

It got him two losses via injury default. “I was being safe and I took the right path,’’ he said.

It showed in his dominance in the state tournament. None of his four matches went the distance. He defeated two of his opponents by pin. The other two, including his state finals match, were by technical fall, both matches stopped because he had gotten so far ahead in total points.

Now that his high school career is over, Dallas is pointing to college, where he has yet to make a final decision. He’s got an official visit to North Carolina State coming up. The University of North Carolina talked to him after the semifinals of the state tournament, and he also has Campbell University on his mind.

“Everything is still up in the air,’’ he said. “I want to take my time.’’

So does his teammate, Minacapelli, who has scholarship offers in both football and wrestling.

Like Dallas, Minacapelli was motivated to do better this year after a disappointing finish last season.

“It definitely inspired me to work way harder,’’ he said after a third-place finish in 2019. “I felt like I didn’t leave it all on the mat last year. I had to prove myself. I had a chip on my shoulder.’’

He made up for it by wrestling more aggressively this season, taking more shots and no longer relying on defense to win matches. “Now I rely on offense,’’ he said. “I could definitely see improvement.’’

It clearly showed in the state finals. Of his four wins, three were by pin, one in just 32 seconds and only one of his three wins by pin extending to the third period. The fourth win was a major decision, 16-8.

He said he was “super nervous” going into his finals match and could hear his heart beating in his chest. He quickly overcame that problem by scoring five points in the first period and taking command of an opponent he would eventually pin for the title.

“Everything went away and I knew I had the win,’’ he said.

It was not only a win for Minacapelli, it was the final high school wrestling match as coach for Heath Wilson, who told his team before the season that he was going to step down after 15 years at Cape Fear as both an assistant and head coach. A wrestler himself at the school, Heath Wilson was also a Cape Fear state champion.

“We had some great kids at Cape Fear,’’ Wilson said. “To read a kid and be able to figure out how he’s motivated is a passion of mine. You’ve got to really figure out what buttons to push and what buttons not to push because you’ll run them out of the room.’’

But the biggest thrill, obviously, was getting to coach his son to three state titles.

“It was the best of both worlds, as father and coach,’’ Heath said. “Both the good and the bad, that experience is indescribable.’’

Pine Forest team recreates commercial

16 pine forestPine Forest High School baseball coach Tom Willoughby was looking for something different to jumpstart fundraising efforts for this year’s Trojan baseball team.He found it in a scene from a hit baseball film that is 31 years old. The film, "Major League," told the story of a struggling Cleveland Indians baseball team that used an odd combination of aging veterans and untested rookies to put together a successful season.

An iconic scene from the film showed team members in their own American Express commercial. Willoughby made a few changes to the script from the movie and got his team together on the Pine Forest baseball field to do the Trojan version of the commercial.

One of the biggest challenges was to get all the players in dress similar to the coats and ties the pretend Cleveland Indians in the movie wore.

He told the players to watch the YouTube video of the original scene from the movie so they could see the whole thing and also watch how their respective characters said their lines in the commercial. Speaking parts went to Jared Collier, Isaac Gonzalez, Justin Clark, Greg Washington, Justin Honeycutt, Willoughby and Keyshawn Taylor.

Taylor had the highlight scene in the commercial, reprising the role of actor Wesley Snipes who played the role of team speedster Willie Mays Hays in the movie.
In the commercial scene, Hays slides in to home plate at the end of the commercial holding up an American Express card.

The biggest distraction Willoughby had to deal with in making the video was creating the character of the manager of the Indians team in the movie, Lou Brown, played by the late character actor James Gammon.

A feature of Gammon’s character in the film was a bushy mustache. Prior to the start of practice, Willoughby had grown a full beard, but the day of the filming of the video, he shaved it all off save the mustache.

“When I showed up with the Lou Brown mustache the guys started laughing,’’ said Willoughby. As soon as the video had been shot, he went to his truck and shaved the mustache off, “just so I could focus with my guys,’’ he said.

Seniors Justin Honeycutt and Jared Collier were among the handful of players on the Pine Forest team that had actually viewed the film. Honeycutt is a pitcher who plays outfield when he’s not on the mound. Collier has been a catcher throughout his career at Pine Forest.

“I thought it was a great idea,’’ Honeycutt said, even though the filming took some time and presented a few challenges. One of the players with a speaking part had a difficult time getting his lines right, but Honeycutt said they came up with a simple solution. “We had to tape his lines on the back of the guy in front of him,’’ Honeycutt said.

Collier said he enjoyed doing something different to kick off the season and try and convince people to support the program financially. “It was something to have a good time with,’’ he said. “We want to get Pine Forest baseball back on track after a tough season.’’

Willoughby said the goal of recreating the scene was to reach out beyond the immediate Pine Forest baseball community of family and friends of the players and draw some interest from a wider audience to get financial support.

“We were trying to have some fun with it,’’ Willoughby said. “We wanted to see if we could get something going on Twitter and Facebook.’’

As of last Tuesday afternoon, the video was up to 694 views on YouTube. To see the video on SnapRaise and make a donation go to https://www.snap-raise.com/v2/fundraisers/111922?fundraiser_id=111922#/.

As of last Tuesday afternoon, the video had raised $3,794 of the $5,000 goal Willoughby set for this year. Willoughby is hopeful the team will raise enough money to purchase a new net for the team’s batting cage and new tarps to protect the field from wet weather.

“The batting cage is a safety thing,’’ Willoughby said. “It’s not safe to be around if it starts getting torn and there are holes in the net. The tarp is about keeping the field playable so we can get in more practice time
and games.’’
The video has been a critical success, at least on campus. “When I showed it to one of our teachers, she said ‘I’m definitely donating,’" Honeycutt said.

For their part, Honeycutt thinks the Trojan team truly has a chance to contend for a  championship this season, not unlike the Cleveland Indians team did in "Major League."
“We’ve got nine seniors on the team,’’ Honeycutt said. “We’ve got the talent and this is the year  to do something.’’

Honeycutt thinks the key to success for the team will be attitudes, keeping them right and playing each game one at time.

Collier thinks the approach to each game is important. “We need everybody to play like they’re never going to be here again,’’ he said.

Scholar athletes of the week: 2/26/20

23 01 Danielle NovakDanielle Novak

South View • Softball/volleyball • Senior

Novak has a 3.6379 grade point average. She is a member of Health Occupations Students of America, the Tiger Stripes Club and Buddy Special Olympics.

23 02 Davin SchmidtDavin Schmidt

South View • Soccer• Senior

Schmidt has a 4.5833 grade point average. He is the National Honor Society President, Spanish Honor Society President, a member of the Academy of Scholars and ranks first in the senior class.

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