North Greenville entered 2010 with a new focus. A new attitude. And a new T-shirt. It was a simple design, an NGU logo on the front. Nothing special. Until you asked a player the significance. They would quickly turn around and point to the number on the back. “427.” A number? More than that. Mileage. The distance from Tigerville to Prasco Park in Mason, Ohio. The site of the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association World Series. 427 was a destination. 427 was a goal.
For those of us around the NGU baseball program previously, there wasn’t much to brag about. A program which had won just 47-games (and one tie) the previous four seasons was full of talent and character but winning had somehow remained scarce among the confines of Ashmore Field. Even in his first year in Tigerville, Coach Travis Henson managed just 10-wins, a number which was unfamiliar to a young head skipper which had won 182-games at Landrum High School with three state championships.
What a difference a year makes.
There was no rebuild in Tigerville. Except building confidence. North Greenville won 10-games in February which equaled the 2009 win total and was two more wins than the Crusaders had in 2008. Players that were unknown just a season ago were turning in All-American type seasons and a young coaching staff, none of which were over the age of 35 seemed to have changed the fortunes of a struggling program.
The momentum which started building in February culminated in one of the most dramatic post-season runs in recent history, starting with three wins in the Southeast Regional tournament, including two wins over South Eastern University, a name which draws a stark reaction from members of the 2010 National Champions.
Bubba Giles’ seventh-inning single scored the winning run, confirming NGU’s 427-mile trek to Ohio, a trip which was booked in February with a new t-shirt. The win over the Flames was a dramatic victory and seemed to be a sort of real-world foreshadowing. The budding rivals were destined for one more showdown.
The trip to Mason was a special one. So special that Coach Henson packed the legendary Bluebird Bus with every member of the NGU baseball team, including guys who hadn’t seen a live pitch all season. Henson wanted everyone to be a part of a culture-changing trip. Every Athlete which dawned the red and black around this time was familiar with the Bluebird and its driver Mr. Shetley, or “Roy” if you were one of the baseball players. 427-miles of excitement….On a bus will little air conditioning…In May. It was hot.
However long and hot the trip, the spirits were high. How could they not be? Pre-tournament festivities gave way to the first round. The Crusaders cruised to three consecutive wins to open the series including a 4-2 victory over defending champion Bluefield College in game three. I'm sure if you ask around the memories are still vivid. The good and the bad.
A tape-measure shot by Colorado Christian’s first baseman in the first inning which is still orbiting the earth. Dayton Lupton’s RBI single in the sixth to score the go-ahead run. The final out of the first game, a ground-out to pitcher Drew Provence who collected the dribbler and fist-pumped as he tagged the bag. Recovering from the first inning homer to throw a complete game with seven strikeouts.
More bat dances.
An exciting 7-5 victory in game two with back-to-back home runs, Adam Taylor followed by Derek Fulmer who finished the day 4-4 or handing the defending champions their first loss in the tournament, setting up a third postseason showdown with South Eastern for a chance to play in the championship with another dramatic ending.
Honestly, who can forget Adam Taylor’s right field (big surprise there) single in the bottom of the seventh inning which sent the Crusaders to the championship series. The hit sent Markus Duckworth home to make it 3-2 as Taylor was lifted off the ground in celebration as he stared down NGU’s newly minted rival, even if only for a short time. Also, let us not forget the performance by ace Drew Provence who threw five innings on short-rest, proving why he was the NCCAA Pitcher of the year.
One last bat dance.
The rest as they say, is history. The Crusaders wrapped up a perfect postseason with a 7-6 win over Bluefield later in the evening. True to form, North Greenville made it an entertaining final game. Taking a one-run lead late in the game on Dayton Lupton’s run-scoring single. The game was riddled with memories of its own. Adam Taylor once again came up big, lining a Bluefield pitch off of the scoreboard in right field. A ball which was no more than 20-feet off the ground.
Perhaps the most memorable moments of the game came in the seventh. They say baseball is God’s game, perhaps the final three outs of the game prove this to be true. It looked to be a quick frame when the Rams hit into two quick outs. The third out looked to be just as easy, a soft liner behind second base which seemed at first to be gloved by second baseman Dylan Fulk. The dugout cleared as the ball, which had more backspin than a Tiger Woods pitching wedge spun out of Folk’s glove, giving Bluefield new life while delaying the celebration for North Greenville.
Remember when we said baseball was God’s Game? The final out of the season came two batters later when a deep fly ball to center field landed in the glove of senior Rand Stegall one of the few players on the North Greenville roster which had only won 35-games before North Greenville finished the 2010 season with a 46-14 record. Vindication.
Okay we lied. One last celebratory bat dance.
(Don't worry, we didn't forget the tornado warning.)
The sights and sounds of those final few minutes are truly unforgettable. Watching Bubba Giles stand on the pitcher's mound with his arms out, waiting for his teammates to come tackle him, all the while the ball was still traveling to Stegall’s glove is something that fans in attendance will never forget. The smiles and tears. Families, friends, and girlfriends in the stands who hung on every pitch and every out, stood with their hands in the air or on their heads. Some taking it in, some still in disbelief. It might have taken a while for it to sink in, North Greenville was a National Champion. The first National Champion in school history.
Much has changed in Tigerville since the 2010 baseball season. The natural grass is gone. The hillside, once synonymous with railroad ties is now the newest baseball facility in South Carolina and the faces that fill the facility are also different. But among the new additions, some remain the same. The same locker room where many tears, laughs, and memories, is still standing. There may or may not be a few patched holes in the wall, remnants of a frustrating outing on the mound, or a tough day at the plate…You know who you are.
There’s also a banner hanging on the wall. The first one of its kind. “2010 National Champions”.
P.S. A quick but necessary shout-out to Will Gladden who, as a redshirt freshman, manned the NGU twitter account during the post-season, bringing the play-by-play. Even if he did leave the fans hanging after the final out to go celebrate.
RECAP: NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
NGU Baseball recognized at SC State House
Photo Gallery: 2010 NCCAA World Series