It wasn’t long after Midway’s loss in 14 innings to South Granville last week that I began replaying the season through my head. “Man,” I thought, “this team was a break here or a break there away from being back in the state championship for a third consecutive season.”
But, if you were in Spivey’s Corner on Friday night, in a game where seemingly nothing went Midway’s way, you knew that it just simply wasn’t meant to be. Fans left the game scratching their heads, questioning some decisions made by the Midway players, and rightfully so, as it seemed the Raiders missed some golden opportunities to advance to the state championship series again.
With that being said, this team was still, however, another special Midway team. And they were able to find themselves playing in the Eastern Championship, and having another 20 win season, and earning another conference championship because of the team’s seniors.
Tyler Pope, Matt Barefoot, Kyle Hawley, Ryan Lee, Cameron Godwin, Trey Wood, and Drake Strickland, returning seniors from last year’s state championship team, simply knew how to win ball games. These seven seniors held the team together all season, and helped underclassmen on the team make adjustments that would later help the team in a great way.
Barefoot and Lee were part of a three-headed monster that was the MHS starting rotation. The team’s ERA finished at 0.96 for the year. The other Raider starter, lefty Dylan Hardison, was lights-out every time he took the mound.
“I can’t say enough about our pitching staff this year. They were always solid and ready to go. We always had good defense behind them, but it started with those guys putting the ball in the right places and usually keeping batters from getting anything squared up,” said Midway’s head coach and ten-time conference champion, Jason Fussell.
Kyle Hawley was an incredible asset to that pitching staff as well. Although Hawley never threw a pitch, he controlled things behind the plate, and was the captain on the field for MHS. Hawley also was the Raiders’ best batter, hitting .575 on the season. Hawley only had five players brave enough to try his arm this year and try to steal a base. Four of them were shot down.
Matt Barefoot batted lead-off for MHS all year, and was slightly behind Hawley’s batting average mark with an average of .505. Barefoot had 48 hits on the year and scored 41 runs, both team-highs. Barefoot also hit 3 home-runs on the season. Tyler Pope led the team in RBI with 34 on the season. He hit three home-runs on the year as well.
Trey Wood and Cameron Godwin each made great positional changes to help Midway in any way that they could. Drake Strickland was as solid as any shortstop in the league this season, and always found a way to get on base.
Things weren’t always easy for the Raiders, who finished 23-4 on the year. After a 5-2 loss at Clinton, Midway was at Wallace-Rose Hill the very next night. A loss could have very well sent the team spiraling into the wrong direction, but Midway responded. The team came out aggressive at the plate, and behind a good performance from Dylan Hardison, won the game 6-3.
The team found themselves in a similar scenario a few weeks later in the Bulldog Easter Invitational at Terry Sanford. After losing the first game of the tournament to South Carolina’s Marlboro County, the Raiders defeated Scotland County and Jack Britt easily in great offensive performances.
“Both of those moments were huge for our team and turning points in our season. I remember thinking after that Wallace-Rose Hill game that that was the first time that it felt like everyone contributed in a positive way,” said Fussell.
Midway would, as mentioned earlier, go on to win the Four-County Conference Championship. It would take beating Clinton the second time they played, and the resilient Midway team found a way to do so.
After trailing 3-0, the Raiders battled back to tie things entering the final inning. With the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, Sophomore Dustin Holland put a ball in play that would score Kyle Hawley and win the game for MHS. It was the most impressive regular season win for Midway, against a fellow top-ten team in the state at the time. It gave the team confidence for other close-game situations.
Midway would see their best performance of the year in round four of the playoffs. A Fairmont team that was seeking revenge from the previous year came into Spivey’s Corner gave Midway their best shot, but Midway was able to win the game 8-5 after a strong offensive showcase. “That was the most complete game we played all year,” Fussell said when asked about Fairmont.
Although the loss in fourteen innings will never be forgotten by anyone who was a part of it, something that will never be forgotten by the Midway faithful is how resilient the team was. It was a staple of the season. Resiliency. And although things didn’t end the way they wanted it to, this Midway team will realize, maybe not today, but someday, that they were a part of something special. The past three seasons of Midway baseball have been nothing short of a dynasty.
“I don’t know what to tell you the secret is or has been to our success,” said Fussell, “but it starts with great kids who love the game of baseball and work hard to get better at it. It’s having senior leaders like this team had, and having younger guys that can come in and step up as well such as Jake Clark, Landon Dorman and Wesley Johnson. This team was always such a good team to coach, because we would say it and they would do it. Whatever we would say they needed to do to get better, they were willing to try. I am really proud of this team and what we were able to do.”
I was fortunate enough to be a part of Midway baseball once again this season, being its media outlet. I think the thing that stands out the most to me about the program, is that things are done the right way. The Raiders were always classy when winning, but more importantly, the few times that they lost, they lost with class. One’s character is often tested when times are tough, and from a sports standpoint, the toughest times are typically season-ending losses. Although some base-running decisions, swings outside the zone, and other plays during last week’s 14 inning loss to South Granville can be questioned, the character of this Midway team cannot.
And that’s something special.