NORTH MOORE 10, CHATHAM CENTRAL 0
BEAR CREEK — Once the final out was recorded, friends and families of the Chatham Central baseball team made their way onto the field where they snapped photos, …
Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Making high quality community journalism isn’t free — please consider supporting our journalism by subscribing to the News + Record today.
Unlimited Digital Access: $3.99/month
Print + Digital: $5.99/month
BEAR CREEK — Once the final out was recorded, friends and families of the Chatham Central baseball team made their way onto the field where they snapped photos, socialized with players and celebrated the ending to a special — and emotional — day in Bear Creek.
It was the Bears’ final game of the regular season last Friday and, with them sitting in fourth place at 4-3 in the Yadkin Valley 1A Conference after the 10-0 loss to the North Moore Mustangs, it was a safe bet that the playoffs were out of reach.
For the Bears’ five seniors, it’d likely be the last time they stepped foot on a baseball field for an organized game at Chatham Central. They had to soak in the moment.
“We’ve got five seniors and we put them all on the field tonight,” Brett Walden, the Bears’ head baseball coach, said. “With what they’ve lost in the past couple of years, I really wanted to get them on the field … and none of them are playing college baseball — Michael (Moore)’s playing college football — so this was their last baseball game, most likely.”
With a playoff spot out of reach, Friday was less about baseball and more about honoring the academic and athletic careers of Chatham Central’s seniors.
The first pitch of the Bears’ game against the Mustangs came less than eight hours after the seniors — Parker Crowley, Brady Cunnup, Nic Hicks, Michael Moore and Tyler Oldham — shifted their tassels and officially became Chatham Central alumni at their graduation ceremony in the gymnasium.
And if graduation wasn’t enough, all five baseball seniors were recognized ahead of their matchup with the Mustangs as part of the team’s senior night, featuring a pregame ceremony at home plate with their family members by their side.
“(It’s) crazy, (high school) flew by,” Moore said after the game. “Everybody says that, but you don’t ever really listen.”
If it feels like the last two baseball seasons flew by, it’s because they did.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of all remaining high school sports last spring, the Bears had played just four games as part of their 2019-20 campaign, earning a 1-3 record. This year, in an abbreviated season, they played 13 games compared to a normal 22-game regular season.
In total, the Bears have lost 27 games to the pandemic over the last two years, a good chunk of the seniors’ varsity careers.
In his final outing as a Bear, Moore, the team’s no. 1 starting pitcher, had a rough night on the mound.
North Moore — which has scored double-digit runs in all but five games this season — figured out Moore from the opening pitch when Mustangs sophomore Ty Allred mashed the ball to deep center field for a first-pitch double.
The Bears were able to grab two quick outs on a fly ball and an RBI grounder that made it 1-0, but the Mustangs weren’t finished.
North Moore rattled off four hits in five plate appearances — and reached on an error — that broke the game wide open. When Moore finally managed to strike out the final batter of the inning, Chatham Central was in a 5-0 hole.
“We had two outs in the first inning with one run and they hit a ground ball and we didn’t get them out at first and then it just exploded,” Moore said. “I wish we could have gotten out of that one. Maybe it would have been different.”
The following inning saw the Mustangs continue to frustrate Moore, hitting three consecutive singles to open up the inning — including a two-RBI single by junior Gabriel Swarms, who had four RBI on the night — and scoring four more runs by the time it was over.
After the game, Walden mentioned that Moore had a sore shoulder, but he decided to play through it. By the time he was pulled from the game before the third inning, the Mustangs had a 9-0 lead, one away from the 10-run mercy rule.
“Michael was throwing strikes, they were just hitting the ball,” Walden said. “They’ve got some big kids that are strong and they’re extremely well-coached.”
On the offensive side of things, the Bears seemed out of sync throughout the night.
North Moore junior starting pitcher Robert Garner threw four no-hit innings, while Swarms pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the fifth to finish off the Bears, 10-0, after the Mustangs scored their 10th run on a Swarms RBI single in the third.
Garner had their number as the Bears reached base only three times, all via walk, and eight of their batters had just two plate appearances. It wasn’t their best showing all around, save for a diving catch by Crowley in center field in the third inning.
“I thought we’d muster some offense, but we didn’t,” Walden said. “Garner’s really good and he’s got another year of high school. I don’t know how we’ll deal with him next year.”
With five seniors leaving, Walden will have major shoes to fill as he shifts his focus to “rebuild mode” over the next couple of seasons, but said that once the rebuild is complete, the Bears are going to be “a really good team.”
It doesn’t hurt that Chatham Central is moving into the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A Conference next season, where it’ll stand with North Moore as the only other 1A team in the conference. Per NCHSAA rules, the top 1A team in the conference will earn an automatic playoff bid, meaning the Bears only have to finish ahead of the Mustangs to grab a playoff spot.
As Walden spoke with his team after its final game of the season, he understandably became emotional. Tears filled his eyes, partially because he’ll miss his seniors — a group he’s been attached to for four years — but also because he wonders if he’s done everything he could to help them win.
“It’s one of those things where you always question yourself, ‘Did I do enough in practice to get us over the hump in this game? Did I do enough to keep us playing at the end?’” Walden said, fighting back tears. “Every year, whether (we lose) in the playoffs or not, I kind of beat myself up for a couple of weeks.”
Walden, who played for the Bears when he was in high school and spent most of his life in Bear Creek, referred to Chatham Central’s success in making it to the state championship six times, winning three titles, but partially faults himself for having not gotten back to the title game since taking the job in 2018.
While the Bears haven’t made it to a state championship in his three years as head coach, they’ve been conference champions twice — an impressive feat — and would have likely made the postseason again this year had there not been a condensed playoff field.
“Having played here and knowing how the program’s been, I feel like the bar is set because we’ve won titles,” Walden said. “I’ll beat myself up for a while, but then we’ll get back to work.”
When asked what Moore — a three-sport All-Conference athlete throughout his time at Chatham Central — will miss most about playing for the Bears on both the field and the court, he gave what appeared to be a bittersweet smile alongside his reply.
“You think you’re a superstar when you come out here and play,” Moore said. “It’s just awesome to prepare to come out and play night in and night out. It’s awesome to play in front of our fans.”
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.