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'Special’ performance makes South Meck title possible

Sabres pitcher Earl Oliver’s gutsy performance kept hopes alive

By Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

ZEBULON South Mecklenburg baseball coach Jon Tuscan said nothing really rattles senior pitcher Earl Oliver.

Oliver’s a big dude at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, and when Tuscan told him he would pitch Game 2 of the state championship series Saturday against Fuquay-Varina , Oliver – not surprisingly – didn’t blink.

The Sabres had lost Game 1 Friday and faced a must-win Game 2 to force a deciding final game Saturday afternoon at Five County Stadium.

South Meck won 2-1 in Game 2 and then took Game 3, 7-4.

“When I told him” he was pitching, Tuscan said, “Earl was pretty normal. He said, ‘We’re not doing anything different.’ He knew he had a job to do and he did it.”

About the only thing Oliver told Tuscan was this: “Coach, I’ll give you everything I have.”

Oh, and this: “Coach, I want the ball.”

Oliver (10-3) threw a masterful seven innings against a Fuquay-Varina team that had ended Richmond Senior’s 28-game win streak in these playoffs – and a Fuquay Varina team that frustrated South Meck’s pitching staff Friday night in a 3-2 win.

The Bengals had entered the championship series hitting a blistering .339.

Oliver had to be special Saturday.

“I knew I had a great defense behind me,” said Oliver, who scattered five hits, struck out four and walked two batters. “I knew if I threw strikes I would be fine. I knew this team would battle to the end and that’s what we did.”

Time and again, Oliver wiggled out of jams. Fuquay-Varina had runners on second and third in the first inning. It had the bases loaded in the fourth.

Oliver did allow a run in the sixth, on a sacrifice fly that gave the Bengals a 1-0 lead, but South Meck scored twice in the seventh to win the game and extend the series.

Oliver admitted he was nervous in that final inning as his team desperately tried to manufacture runs to keep its season alive.

He admitted, for a split-second, he began thinking of a different ending.

“As a player,” he said, “you never want to think like that. You want to be confident. But, of course, we think about it when it’s happening. But what can you say about this club? This club is going to battle no matter what, and we’ve got the championship.”

Oliver said he had a great night of preparation.

“I slept normally,” he said. “I wasn’t really nervous. I have confidence every time I go on the mound.”

And all he did was deliver one of the best pitching performances, given the situation, in his school’s history and set his team up to win its first baseball state title since 1989.

Oliver earned championship series MVP for his work.

And rightly so.

“He was special,” Tuscan said. “Without him, we don’t get to Game 3.”

Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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