SouthLake Christian baseball coach Rich Landis consistently tells his player to "finish strong."
His Eagles did just that to be crowned the 2A NCISAA state champions, a goal they had been working toward for the past few years.
"It's unreal," said senior Travis Hallman. "It's hard to believe how far we've come since freshman year."
The experienced SouthLake team, which touted nine seniors on its roster, defeated Henderson's Kerr-Vance Academy in a best-of-three series to win the small Huntersville school its first boys' team title.
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The Eagles got off to a tough start in the series, dropping the first game 5-0 to the Spartans. East Carolina-bound pitchers John Allen and Tyler Bolton kept the potent SouthLake batters in check, allowing a season-low two hits for SouthLake.
Landis credits his team for not letting the early blow get them down, instead focusing on sweeping their opponents.
The Eagles came out with a vengeance in game two the next day, blowing out a talented Kerr-Vance 10-0 in five innings.
"To 10-run any team in the state championship is amazing," said Jared Fortune, SouthLake's winning pitcher. "But for it to be against that Kerr-Vance team that we've been talking about all year - that we knew had some amazing guys - was awesome."
Having another five innings of pitching eligibility, Fortune came back out for game three, holding the Spartans to only one hit in his five innings.
The Eagles again came out with a hot bat in game three, getting off to a quick 2-0 lead in the first. Scoring six more runs in the next four innings, SouthLake brought in senior Nathan Sharp to replace Fortune at the mound.
Sharp held Kerr-Vance hitless to secure the Eagles their championship. SouthLake won the final game 10-0 in seven innings.
"We hit the daylight out of it," said Landis about the last two games of the series. "We're hard to compete with when we play like that."
But he also credited his pitchers.
"We knew Jared had the ability to do what he did," said Landis. "Although he did more than I thought."
He said Fortune couldn't have done it without Sharp and fellow seniors Cameron Travis and Spencer Cole as well as junior Troy Lowden, who stepped up on the mound in the tournament to allow Landis to hold Fortune for the second day of the title series.
Having played in last year's state semifinals also gave the Eagles experience they could build upon this season.
Fortune, who finished the season with a 10-0-1 record on the mound, said it was a great feeling to win a state title.
"It was like a dream," he said. "I knew we had the talent to pull it off this year - and probably even last year - but to actually pull it off was awesome."
"It just put a big smile on my face to think about how all that hard work paid off," he said.
The SouthLake seniors had a good season, leading the Eagles to a school-record 28 wins.
Fortune led the team at the plate, hitting a .467 average with seniors Palmer Coleman, Sam Remick and Sharp not far behind.
Along with Hallman and fellow seniors Cameron Travis and Bobby Troutman, the top seven in the Eagle lineup hit a combined 310 runs, 287 RBIs and 65 home runs.
Fortune, Remick and Sharp were all-state selections.
With how important the senior class has been for the Eagles, Landis said going out with a title was fitting for that group.
"When they think back at their time here at SouthLake - in the hallways, in the athletic fields - they'll have good memories, but that one will standout as a finishing touch," said Landis.
Fortune shared that feeling.
"It's definitely the pinnacle of my high school career," he said. "It feels like I've finished what I've tried to accomplish here."
Landis, who admits he felt a big weight off his shoulders after winning the title, said he wishes he could have gone "more wild" with his celebration, especially in his Eagles' dog pile.
"I could've really had some fun with that," said Landis.