Tigers cherish title repeat in state finals

Randleman baseball players celebrate after the final out of the Class 2-A state finals. (PJ Ward-Brown/North State Journal)

Randleman finishes remarkable postseason run

BURLINGTON – It was even better this time for Randleman baseball players.

They should know.

With the core of the team intact, the Tigers repeated as Class 2-A state champions with another emphatic result.

“Senior year, a good way to go out,” center fielder Braylen Hayes said.

Randleman capped a sterling season with Saturday afternoon’s 12-5 victory against Whiteville in Game 2 of the championship series at Burlington Athletic Stadium.

“My last game is winning another state championship,” said second baseman Kaden Ethier, who tracked down a fly in shallow right field near the foul line for the game’s final out. “I don’t see how I could ask for anything more.”

The list of accolades and achievements are bound to be talked about for a long time around Randleman after this team produced a 33-1 record with one memorable performance after another.

Randleman’s Drake Purvis holds up the championship plaque after the Tigers won the Class 2-A state title against Whiteville at Burlington Athletic Stadium. PJ WARD-BROWN/NORTH STATE JOURNAL

Senior catcher Brooks Brannon was named the championship series Most Valuable Player, driving in three runs in his last game of what became one of the most distinguished seasons in North Carolina prep baseball history.

He had company in going out on top. Seven seniors played their final game for Randleman.
“A storybook kind of thing for those guys, it’s pretty awesome,” coach Jake Smith said.

The clinching game was the closest outcome for the Tigers in the state playoffs. But players insist it’s the work in the offseason that makes these seasons so special.

“Ever since September, we’ve been fighting, fighting,” senior pitcher Ryan White said. “We just completed our goals.”

Randleman has won three state titles in baseball, the last two in the same ballpark in front of boisterous partisan crowds.

“They’re all hard,” Smith said of churning out a championship season. “These kids make it seem easy the way they play on the field.”

Comparing the championship seasons, this latest version seemed more compelling. It was a full season under regular conditions after the pandemic-reduced 2021 slate.

“It’s a better feeling, just knowing that it’s back-to-back,” Brannon said. “It’s awesome. Last game is a win, that’s an amazing feeling.”

That spread throughout the team.

Randleman’s Bryson Sweatt reacts after scoring a run in the team’s title-clinching victory.                         PJ WARD-BROWN/NORTH STATE JOURNAL

“So much excitement because everything that goes into it,” said junior third baseman Hunter Atkins, who supplied three hits.

Senior Trey Way, who had two hits and reached base four times, scored three runs from the lead-off spot, Brannon and senior Gus Shelton both had three hits and senior Bryson Sweatt, Hayes, White and sophomore Seth Way all had two hits.

Whiteville (23-5) became the first team in eight state-playoff games to score against Randleman, taking a 3-0 lead in the first inning despite the ball leaving the infield only twice. Those runs ended the Tigers’ shutout streak that began with a blanking of Trinity in the Piedmont Athletic Conference Tournament final.

Still, White pitched a complete game in the title-clincher for the second year in a row – just this time it was a seven-hitter instead of a no-hitter. He struck out eight and walked four.

Brannon called the Tigers together in front of the dugout as they exited the field after the bottom of the second. His message was that this was no time to deviate from what they’ve been doing the past few months.

“He said that we’ve put up so many runs all year that we just need to calm down,” Atkins said. “Just be the leaders that we are.”

Riley Edwards dumps water on coach Jake Smith after Randleman won the state title Saturday in Burlington. PJ WARD-BROWN/NORTH STATE JOURNAL

With that, the Tigers pretty much lined up to answer that call. They delivered with five runs, keyed by Brannon’s two-run triple and Seth Way’s go-ahead two-run double down the third-base line. White had the first of his two RBI singles.

Brannon’s run-scoring single in the fourth pushed the edge to 6-4. Shelton’s three-run double with two outs came in a six-run sixth.

Whiteville was a no-hit victim by Drake Purvis in Friday night’s 10-0 result in Game 1, which was reduced to five innings by the mercy rule.

By Bob Sutton