Growing up, my uncle would always tell me of sports stories that fascinated him. He still does. If he has told me one, he’s told me a hundred. I recall him telling me of the way Lew Alcindor of UCLA dominated college basketball in the late 1960s, and the six batters which were given the nickname “Murderers’ Row” on the 1927 New York Yankees team, including baseball greats such as Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri. I remember him telling me that “Pistol” Pete Maravich honed his basketball skills at what is currently the North Carolina Justice Academy in Salemburg, before going on to average 44 points per game throughout his college basketball career at Louisiana State University. I could go on for many paragraphs relaying the sports stories that my uncle has told me, but there is one that seemed the be more fascinating than any of the others. Maybe it’s because I am from Sampson County and a little bit biased, but I think it has more to do with the unflappable pitching performances in the 1968 Clement verses Garland baseball game for the Sampson County Championship.
The game started on May 7th, 1968, but didn’t end until around 1 a.m. on May 8th. The game was played at Midway’s Reagan Field because it was the only field in the county that had lights at the time. Only one of these teams could go to the state playoffs, and it would take winning this game to make it. Calling this game a pitcher’s duel would be a huge understatement. Clement won the game 1-0 in 14 innings. Clement’s E.V. Spell and Garland’s Larry Smith each pitched complete games, or two complete games in one, as one high school game is typically decided in 7 innings. More jaw-dropping than this is the fact that the two aces combined for a state record 60 strikeouts. Spell fanned 33 batters, which is a North Carolina High School Athletic Association record for strikeouts in one game. Smith’s 27 strikeouts sits at fifth all time in a game in North Carolina baseball.
Gary Hall was Clement’s catcher for the 14 innings and 33 strikeouts. Hall said that he had a sponge in between his mitt and his hand, yet his fingers were still blue the next day. “Larry had a mean curve-ball that would make you squat to try to keep from getting hit, then would fall across the plate. E.V. was just throwing fastball, fastball, fastball,” said Hall.
As the game went on, the temperatures were dropping nearly as hard as Smith’s breaking ball. “It’s like we would jsut take turns striking out,” said Hall. “Larry didn’t have his best stuff the first couple of innings, he walked the first three batters of the game. Then he struck out the next three, and we had a ball game,” said the Clement catcher.
The game went on and the temperatures continued to fall. “There was an old trash can behind the field and people would get tree branches and make a fire,” said Clement’s coach Pat Jones. When asked of the pitching performance from both players, Jones recalled it being something crazy to watch. “They were both throwing strikes. They didn’t throw a lot of extra pitches. I didn’t keep up with pitch count back then but I wish I would have,” said Jones.
The game was still scoreless as it rolled on to the bottom of the 14th inning. Wayne Shatterly was hit by a pitch, Toby Hall got a single, and a fielder’s choice by W.A. Bullard moved the two runners to scoring position. There were 2 outs in the bottom of the 14th when Allen Carroll, Clement’s third baseman stepped up to the plate. Carroll hit a dribbler down the third base line that neither Smith or the Garland third baseman could field before Toby Hall crossed the plate. The game was finally over. Jones said that his players jokingly told him that they strung the game out until after midnight because that was Jones’ birthday, and they wanted the win to be his present from them.
“I was so glad that we had won, but I was so glad that it was over too,” said Gary Hall. Hall mentioned the toll it took on him as a catcher to squat down in position for 14 innings. Jones gives a lot of credit to Spell’s pitching performance to Hall, saying, “It takes a great catcher to have a great pitching performance.”
Jones wishes he still had the scorecard from the game, but it was unfortunately lost in a house fire in 1993. One thing is for certain, there were 60 ‘K’s on the card.
Larry Smith went on to play semi-pro baseball in Florida. E.V. Spell played college baseball at Louisburg College. Spell was drafted by the Chicago Cubs, but declined the offer. Spell is the only member of the team who is not still living. He passed away from liver cancer in 2003.
“I feel like that game brought us all closer together. We’re all still in the area, and every time we see each other we talk about baseball,” said Hall. “I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach those young men. They were very coachable and they were a hardworking bunch of boys,” said Jones.
The record set by Spell is one that is unbreakable as of right now. The NCHSAA has now regulated a pitch count which prohibits pitchers from facing that many batters in one game. “I was so glad to be a part of it said,” said Hall. “It was our fifteen minutes of fame. What makes it pretty cool when you go to the record book and see E.V.’s name, the 33 strikeouts, and Clement High School. We were a part of history that won’t be broken.” Not only was this the most fascinating sports story that my uncle ever told me, but perhaps, the most fascinating baseball story in Sampson County history.