Rams Achieve a Rare Repeat as 4A Baseball State Champions - TribPapers

Rams Achieve a Rare Repeat as 4A Baseball State Champions

Pitcher C.J. Wallace (40) clutches Dylan Odom as teammates converge to celebrate Roberson repeating as 4A state baseball champs. Rams (L-R) are Zeb Swangim, Wallace, Odom, Finals MVP Caden Davidson, (24) T.K. Wright (22), Asher Ring (12), and Jack Ray. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Burlington – The feat is quite rare in 65 seasons starting in 1960, when classifications expanded to a 4A for largest-populated schools. New Hanover (1993-94) and J.L. Rose (2003-04) repeated. TCR is the first West Region school to do so.

The Rams feature a prolific, seasoned “Joltin’ Junior” class that’s now eager to “three-peat” as seniors in 2025. Fiery head coach Eric “Fightin’ Filly” Filipek grinned in the team’s post-triumph huddle, while asking “what’s next?” after winning two straight crowns. “I think we’ll figure it out.”

Roberson won 3A state titles in 1983 and in two of three years – 2000 and ’02. TCR won 4A crowns in 2017, ’23 and ’24.

The Rams turned Ashley into ashes by 8-1 last Saturday afternoon. The night before on May 31, they “skunked” the Screaming Eagles 3-0 when also scoring early in Burlington Athletic Stadium.

Micah Simpson won that pitcher’s duel over fellow junior Cole Barnes, registering all but one AHS out. Crafty, slender lefty “Nimble Ninja” Simpson deceptively varies arm levels and speeds, with pinpoint control to ‘fill the (strike) zone.” He said, “Our defense makes play. We played our best” in playoffs. He was the 2023 Championship Series MVP for pitching and hitting heroics.

Caden Joseph

Caden Joseph is the first and middle names of two tall Rams who starred in the Finals. Caden “Hulk” Davidson, the largest Ram batter, earned his 2024 Finals MVP honor. He doubled in two runs in three-run, first-inning Ram outbursts in both contests. He blasted a curve ball to deep center in game one. He said, “I want to stay disciplined” looking for hittable pitches, to “drive the ball.”

In game two, Davidson had three hits. He knocked in leadoff batters Zeb “Swingin’” Swangim and Jake “Scar ‘Em” Parham with a looping single. He advanced to third as the ball hopped over the errantly-charging center fielder. Pinch runner Carson Heath scored on Simpson’s single. Davidson singled in “Happy” Chappy Smith for an 8-1 lead in inning three, and later doubled.

C.J. Wallace is also Caden Joseph. The bushy-haired, redheaded closer sparkled in pressure situations he anticipated. Pre-series, “Chatty Joe” C.J. confidently sighed when telling the Tribune he’d have to quiet clutch-hitting Screaming Eagles. They “walked off” their prior five wins in final at-bats.

In the opener, Wallace entered with two runners on and the batter as the tying run. He ended it on two pitches, getting a double play.

Wallace pitched the game of his life in game two. He hadn’t gone more than two innings in over a month. But C.J. went six frames, yielding merely one hit. He entered in the second with a 6-0 lead. But Ashley loaded the bases with no outs against fatigued co-ace “Rhino” Reno Jeter. Wallace fielded a bunt-like squibber, and gunned out a runner at home. A sacrifice fly scored Ashley’s sole run, as Wallace got three outs on four pitches.

Roberson promptly added two runs in the third off of a reliever. TCR outhit Ashley ten to one.

Coach Filipek said that when senior Jeter handed the ball to junior Wallace, he “passed the torch” to such potential starters in ’25.

Small Ball, Defense

Roberson smacks doubles, but also manufactures runs with timely hitting and running. Parham and Lorenzo Lyles were safe on bunt singles on Saturday. J.T. Smith beat out an infield hit. Parham had two RBI singles. “You put the ball in play” with patient at-bats, Coach Filipek told him.

Swangim led off by getting hit by lanky Jackson Lee’s pitch. “It helps our confidence to get that first run,” Swangim said. Parham said that “the game goes our way.” Simpson said, “We set the tone with our bats” for blowout wins.

Catcher J.T. Smith transferred from Hendersonville, where his father Jerry Smith coached HHS baseball. In his first state finals, J.T.’s adrenalin surged. “I try to tone it down” to not overswing, he said. “But defensively, I stay aggressive” such as with quick pickoff throws.

Ram defensive gems included first baseman Davidson spearing a grounder and flipping to Wallace, to end Ashley’s second-inning threat. RF Simpson made two spectacular catches in the fifth, charging in and then dashing back. Outfielders Lyles and Parker Filipek also made great playoff catches. Third baseman Swangim and second baseman Chappy Smith made crisp putouts. Steady shortstop Parham threw for the series’ final out.

Ram ballplayers thrive with confidence and camaraderie. Coach Filipek said, “We have great players who care and are unselfish.” They socialize together year-round, Davidson noted. “We’re so close.” Jeter said, “I love them” like brothers. “We believe in each other.”

Coach Filipek urged the Rams to “scrap for everything” and avoid overconfidence, in a pre-series pep talk. “Fight like the underdog, then we will finish like the favorite.”