DURHAM About 10 minutes after the final pitch in the N.C. 4A state championship baseball series Saturday, the Hough High baseball team was asked to accept their awards and line up down the third base line.
Hough had just lost 10-4 to Wake County’s Middle Creek at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The game, and the best-of-3 series, was never really close.
Middle Creek won Game 1, 2-0, Friday. Hough only got one hit.
Hough’s players were sad when it was over Saturday, but they didn’t hang their heads. And as each of them went to a makeshift podium to get a medal near home plate, I noticed how all the players walked back to that third base line and proceeded to hug each of his teammates, genuinely, with two hands.
In 24 years of covering sports for the Observer, I’ve seen hundreds of these kinds of ceremonies, but I don’t ever remember seeing one quite like this.
The bond these guys have was obvious.
“It’s a true baseball club here,” Hough coach Jimmy Cochran said. “It’s been a pleasure for us as a coaching staff to be around them and I couldn’t be any prouder of them.”
Hough got down 5-0 early Saturday and was on its fourth pitcher early in the fourth inning. Middle Creek got hard hits and got them often. Middle Creek also got help with six Hough errors.
Huskies second baseman Jared Sobo said he and his teammates weren’t making nervous plays. He said his team kept getting bad hops. I think he was right. Where Hough just missed on the big play, time after time, Middle Creek kept making them – a few diving catches, a few bobbled or missed balls that a teammate scrambled to grab and make a play.
“We just didn’t make plays,” Cochran said. “Our guys made plays all playoff series long. They’re the reason why we’re here, our defense and our nine seniors. We didn’t play our best game today, but I’ll take our guys any day of the week.”
It was the kind of day when nothing seemed to go well, but Hough’s players never seemed to argue or point fingers, even during these tough times. And when it was over, well, they hugged it out.
That was impressive.
Cochran wasn’t the least bit surprised by his team’s show of love for one another.
“They’ve spent the better part of the past two years together on an every day basis,” Cochran said. “They genuinely care about each other and want to see each other be successful, on and off the field. I know they’re proud to get to this point and I know they would’ve loved to have won, but they’ll sit back and realize what they accomplished just getting here and they’ll be as proud of themselves as I am of them.”