Champion Rams Leave Finals Foes in their Wake - TribPapers

Champion Rams Leave Finals Foes in their Wake

Moments after winning the 4A state title, TCR Rams celebrate. Winning pitcher Nick Parham hugs his brother Jake Parham (17). Catcher Asher Ring is behind Nick, hugging him. Zeb Swangim left of Jake. C.J. Wallace (40) is at left. Caden Davidson is at right. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Burlington – T.C. Roberson won its second state baseball title in seven seasons and fifth ever, doing so it with surprising ease for a final series including an opening-game slaughter.

In its two finals wins, West Region top seed Roberson (26-7) bludgeoned Wake and proved itself a doubles machine. The Rams won the finale 7-3 on Saturday, hours after East fourth seed Wake (26-8) won game two 3-1 in torrid mid-day heat. The games were played on Friday night and Saturday afternoon in Burlington Athletic Stadium, a rookie league pro ballpark with longer dimensions than high school parks.

Still, star Cougar catcher Luke Stevenson (18 HR, .520) clubbed a three-run homer in the finale’s opening at-bat. But after that 4A tourney MVP Micah Simpson, who started his second game in two days, and long reliever Nick Parham put Wake bats to sleep.

Finals MVP Micah Simpson won game one in a complete game. In the finale, he started on the mound and his three-run triple was the winning hit. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Finals MVP Micah Simpson won game one in a complete game. In the finale, he started on the mound and his three-run triple was the winning hit. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

TCR scored three runs in the second to tie it, then four runs in the fourth inning for yet another decisive playoff victory. Simpson homered in final Ram at-bats for both regional final victories. In the state title clincher, he cleared the bases with a two-out triple to deep right field for a decisive 7-3 lead. Zeb Swangim, Cade Lovelace, and Zeke Adwaters scored. Earlier, J.T. Gordon ran home on a wild pitch for TCR’s first lead – 4-3.

Simpson, a two-way star like Shohei Ohtani, often bats best when also pitching. “I try to separate ‘Pitching Micah’ from ‘Hitting Micah.'” He also said that if trailing when pitching, he often makes up for it with his bat. He did, driving in three insurance runs and forcing tricky-pitching star freshman starter Carson Strider out of the game. Simpson beat out an infield hit earlier.

Game two starter Reno Jeter was not intimidated by Wake’s nine Division One-committed players, including an ACC-bound infield. “They’re human like us” – and beatable.

‘Faith, Family, Fight!’

Roberson head coach Eric Filipek observed that current Rams are similar to his 2017 champs as closely-bonded and tenacious. “You’ve got to care for and love one another,” the master motivator told the Rams after they won it all. “You trust one another. You bought into the (strategic) plan.” Their ultimate gain is to “be the best you can be in life.”

Filipek espouses a TCR motto of Teammates First, Confident Players, Respect for Details.

“Faith, family, fight!” is another team slogan. Sophomore Simpson cited it when grinning about the team’s camaraderie and determination. “We pick each other up,” so if one batter does not come through, then the next one does.

He said he was not worried when down 3-0 right away in the finale, knowing that hitters and defense would respond. Rams were saying “we got this!” in the dugout, he said. “We’re never out of it.”

The Rams had confidence from scoring early and often a day earlier, to win their opener 10-0. They ended the game after five innings – two innings early on the ten-run mercy rule. They chased Cougar ace Jimmy Lovelace (10-2) by the fourth, scoring five runs. Lovelace relieved Crider in inning four of the finale.

Coach Filipek told the Rams after game one that “you sent a message” about Ram dominance. “You battled, one pitch at a time.”

Tom Smith managed TCR for most of its state titles. The retired coach said at the finals how impressed he is with current Rams’ skill and no-quit drive. Some Wake Forest coaches told the Tribune that TCR is their most refined opponent in overall skills and tactics.

Simply Simpson-tastic!

Simpson, also an outfielder, said TCR’s overall skill level and the state crown are “a culmination of all the hard work we put in” for months.

Lanky left-hander Simpson threw a two-hitter in the opener, going all five innings. The left-hander neutralized Stevenson and Wake’s many other left-handed batters. Two Cougars got two on base in inning one. Stevenson was up. He was often intentionally walked in the series. Not then. Simpson went after him. “I threw him strikes. I had confidence in my defense.” Stevenson merely popped out.

Parham Tandem

The next batter hit into one of several “Parham Twin Killings” in these playoffs. Sophomore second baseman Jake Parham fielded the ball and tossed it to smooth senior shortstop Nick. Nick gunned a throw to first baseman Caden Davidson. The Parham brothers said this title is extra special, in their final Ram season together. Nick calls it “super special. I love him.” Jake calls their bond and the title “awesome!”

Nick Parham led TCR with three RBI in game one. His double near the centerfield warning track brought home the final two runs, a “walk-off” hit to clinch the ten-run slaughter. Ram players mobbed each other. Though kept in the park by strong wind, his towering fly did the trick. He said, “I’m happy to hit it over the centerfielder’s head.” Roberson, designated as the home team, batted last.

Coach Filipek said, “We executed. We didn’t let down.” TCR scored twice in the first inning, once in the third, and five times in the fourth to seize a commanding 8-0 lead.

Lead off hitter Swangim set the tone, singling to start the first Ram at-bat. Nick Parham also got on. Davidson singled in Swangim. Swangim had two doubles in the finale. He said after game one that “it felt great, to get the first hit and score our first run. We grabbed momentum.” He both pulls pitches and goes the opposite (right) way. “We stuck with the plan” of patient batting.

Nick Parham, Swangim, and Davidson each contributed two of TCR’s 11 hits. Davidson and Jeter each batted in two runs. Simpson singled in pinch runner Zeke Adwater with the third Ram run.

Offensive Quake vs. Wake

Roberson’s batting “quake versus Wake” in both finals victories was in the fourth inning, thanks to a second look at the starting pitcher. In the opener, the Rams with six consecutive hits scored five runs and demonstrated their entire lineup’s strength. Senior J.T. Gordon doubled in Jake Parham, who walked, and pinch hitter Nick Moses who doubled. TCR led 5-0. Swangim singled. Nick Parham singled in Gordon. Davidson walked to load the bases. Reno Jeter singled in Parham. TCR led 8-0.

Jeter smacked a grand slam in the region-clinching victory. The junior grinned and proudly said that Ram batters figuratively “cut” Wake ace Lovelace. “We came out swinging.”

Grand Finale

In the finale, Swangim’s two-out, RBI double drove in J.T. Gordon to tie it at 3-3 in the second inning. Lorenzo Lyles and Jake Parham scored the first two runs. Swangim’s double ignited the big fourth inning. He had two RBI.

Simpson pitched two innings, for seven in two days. Winning pitcher Nick Parham pitched five shutout innings. He fanned the final batter. Wake had merely six hits.

Defense sparkled. Swangim knocked down a sharp liner at third, and threw out the batter. Later, Davidson leaped to snare a high throw and touch first. They are among sophomore stars who dream of three consecutive state titles.