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Championship Bound

Albemarle School set to face Kerr-Vance Academy in NCISAA baseball state championship series

Game 1 of the best-of-3 series is today

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The 2019 Albemarle School baseball team will play in the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association NCISAA Class 1A state championship series against Kerr-Vance Academy Friday, May 17 and Saturday May 18 at Kerr-Vance Academy. Front row, l-r: Tanner Simpson, Bryson Sawyer, Damauri Whidbee and Cole Langley. Second row, l-r: Donovan Sherlock, Trent Sawyer, Luke Gray, Logan Dunn, Brenner Ranhorn, Raymond Hooper and Keith Lane. Back row: Avery Krywanczyk. Photo taken at Knobbs Creek Park baseball field, Thursday, May 16, 2019.

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By Malcolm Shields
Sports Editor

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Albemarle School baseball team is set to face Kerr-Vance Academy in the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association Class 1A state championship series this weekend.

Game 1 of the best-of-three series is today at Kerr-Vance at 6:30 p.m.

Kerr-Vance (14-5), the No. 1 seed in the Class 1A tournament, will host the entire series in Henderson.

Albemarle School will be playing in its first baseball state championship final since 1991.

If there was a word to define the 2019 baseball season for Albemarle School (8-9), it would be resilience.

The Colts have a roster that features 12 players with a couple of athletes that are in middle school.

The NCISAA allows member schools to have middle school players participate in high school varsity athletics.

Along with the limited roster, the Colts have battled through their share of injuries during the season.

The Colts have taken in the ride from an under. 500 regular season to now just two wins away from hoisting a state championship.

“It's been great. It's been a whirlwind,” Albemarle School head coach Jeff Simpson said. “They got healthy, they finally started believing in themselves and they started playing baseball.”

For Albemarle School, it was a battle just to get into the state playoffs.

According to Simpson, during the regular season, key players Tanner Simpson, Cole Langley and Trent Sawyer sustained injuries.

Sawyer, an eighth grader who was batting over .400, was lost for the season with a lower-body injury.

Coach Simpson noted that losing Sawyer was also a key loss because he was also a pitcher.

“In this class of baseball, when you lose a pitcher, it puts a damper on things,” coach Simpson said. “You have to move people around and make things work with smoke and mirrors. That's what we've done.”

Albemarle School finished the regular season on a three-game losing skid entering the Tarheel Independent Conference tournament the last week of April.

At that point, was when the coach noted that health was improving for the team.

The Colts still had a chance to make the state playoffs.

“We had to win our first game in the conference tournament to even make the state playoffs,” coach Simpson said.

The Colts came through in their opening round game of the TIC tournament with an 8-7 win against Northeast Academy April 30.

The next day, the Colts faced No. 1 seed in the conference in Ridgecroft School and lost 14-13.

Albemarle School earned the No. 6 seed in the state playoffs and faced No. 3 seed and league foe Pungo Christian in the quarterfinal round.

The Colts defeated the Raiders 2-0 on May 9 to advance to the semifinals.

Albemarle School went to Wilson Tuesday and defeated the No. 2 seed Greenfield School 2-0 to punch its ticket to the state championship series.

Coach Simpson noted that the school has been buzzing about the baseball team since its win in Wilson Tuesday night.

Key in the win Tuesday was Langley, who pitched five innings, struck out six batters to help the Colts advance.

“He has been a blessing,” coach Simpson said of Langley. “He has stepped up big time.”

Tanner Simpson pitched two innings in relief to close out the game.

The moment of the season so far for Langley was immediately after the win against Greenfield.

“When Tanner threw that last pitch and Bryson [Sawyer] caught that fly ball, I heard the words, 'We're going to the 'Ship,'” Langley said.

The 'Ship refers to the state championship series.

Langley, who earned TIC all-conference honors, leads the Colts in innings pitched and strikeouts this season.

“It's amazing for him to put that faith in me,” Langley said about coach Simpson letting him pitch. “It really gives me so much confidence.”

Langley acknowledged that the run to the state championship has been amazing.

He also has the highest batting average on the team this season.

Along with Langley, the Colts have two active players that hit over .400 in Tanner Simpson and Brenner Ranhorn.

Tanner Simpson was the TIC Player of the Year this season.

“It's been absolutely amazing, considering we were the sixth seed and taking down the two and three seeds,” he said of the playoff run. “It's been wonderful.”

Logan Dunn and Bryson Sawyer also batted over .300 this season.

It has been a meteoric rise for the Albemarle School baseball program during the past four seasons.

The varsity program was reborn in 2016.

Before that time, the school did not field a team for years.

The school fielded baseball teams in the early 2000s.

After a losing season in 2016, coach Simpson took over the program in 2017.

Due to the lack of numbers at the high school level, the team was a junior varsity club in 2017.

Albemarle School returned to the varsity ranks last season and posted a 4-7 record and earned a berth into the state playoffs.

“We're progressing the way I believe that we should be progressing,” coach Simpson said.

The future appears good for the Colts as the current team only has one senior.

The Colts will face a Kerr-Vance program that is the back-to-back NCISAA Class 1A state champions.

The Spartans are tested as they played in the split 1A/2A Coastal Independent Conference this season.

Two of their losses were to Class 2A Faith Christian and Rocky Mount Academy.

They will face each other in the Class 2A state championship series this weekend.

Coach Simpson wants his team to focus on themselves.

“I can only control what my kids do,” he said. “If we get tied up and worrying about what they do and that they are two-time champions, then you'll be out of the game before the game starts.”

SEND-OFF

Albemarle School will have a send-off for the baseball team today at noon starting from the gravel parking lot at the school.

“The send-off is big,” coach Simpson said.

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