Ardrey Kell High baseball coach Hal Bagwell said he believes the real reason why the Knights are playing for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state championship series this weekend is real simple:
"Everybody," he said, "gets along."
Bagwell has coached four previous teams to state championship appearances, two at Ardrey Kell and two at South Mecklenburg. He's generally considered one of the best coaches in North Carolina with one of the best programs. Ardrey Kell has a current alumnus who is an MLB All-Star (Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood) and five other guys playing pro ball in the minor leagues.
Bagwell said he's had teams with more talent, but not many -- if any -- with this type of togetherness.
"Our locker room's so great," Bagwell said. "There's lots of love going around, and the guys bought into every single thing I've asked them to do since September 1st. They've paid the price."
Ardrey Kell (27-5) beat Fuquay-Varina (20-12) 3-0 Friday in Game 1 of the schools' best-of-3 state final series. Game 2 is Saturday at 2 p.m. A deciding Game 3 would either begin at 5 p.m. or 8 p.m. Saturday. All games are at Five County Stadium in Zebulon.
One other Observer-area baseball team is in the finals.
Boiling Springs Crest (26-4) fell 8-4 to Wilmington New Hanover (27-1) in Game 1 of a best-of-3 series in Burlington.
Two area teams are alive in softball: Alexander Central (27-5) beat Cleveland (20-3) in Game 1 of its best-of-3 3A championship series Friday at UNC Greensboro. And in 4A, South Caldwell (28-3) had a 25-game win streak snapped by Fayetteville Britt in a series opener Friday at N.C. State.
In Zebulon, Ardrey Kell will try to win the school's second state baseball championship, and it's first since 2009.
This year's team has four college recruits. Senior outfielder Cam Brantley (.344 BA, 24 RBIs) has signed with UNC. Junior pitcher Trey Tujetsch (7-2, 1.44 ERA) has committed to South Carolina. Junior pitcher Luke Carpenter (7-0, 52 Ks) has committed to Dartmouth. And senior third baseman Parker Ledford (.326, 21 RBIs) is considering a Wingate commitment, Bagwell said.
That quartet helped the Knights rebound from an 0-2 start to reach the 12-year-old school's third state championship series.
"Nobody's more important than anybody else," Bagwell said. "Everybody's equal. There's no animosity. We've got a culture that was defined by the players who came through here, and these guys now, they play for that. They love the history here. They embrace it and the expectation is set, man. It is what it is. There's love for this program and they all 100 percent believe in that."