MOORESVILLE – The Mooresville High School baseball team’s improbable run to the 4A state championship series comes just when a still-grieving community needed something – anything – to help cast off the pall hanging stubbornly over the town like the recent spring heat.
The fatal shooting May 4 of Mooresville K9 Officer Jordan Sheldon became an unwelcome identifier for a town unaccustomed to such attention.
When the 22-9 Blue Devils take the field May 31 against Wendell’s Corinth Holders High School at UNC Greensboro, they’ll have a unique opportunity to shift the narrative for a town trying to balance the need to move on with the knowledge that it can’t erase the past.
The team’s potential place in history is not lost on Mooresville baseball coach Jeff Burchett.
“I get emotional just thinking about,” Burchett said in a phone interview, his voice cracking, a few days before the best-of-three series. “This community has been through a lot. It’s nice to be part of something positive.”
It’s actually something more positive than even Burchett, a 1988 Mooresville graduate, ever expected.
“I knew we were going to be good,” the coach said of his preseason expectations. “To make it to the state championship? I don’t know about that.”
But Burchett said he also never expected to end up coaching at his alma mater, and then do it for 22 years.
“I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time,” he said.
With 13 seniors on the squad, Burchett said there was a this-is-it feel to the season from the beginning. That feeling has continued through the playoffs.
“I guess none of those seniors have been ready for their season to end,” the coach said. “And they’re still not. That means something.”
Burchett was hesitant to point to individual players who have helped drive the Blue Devils’ unprecedented success.
“I think that’s what’s so good about this team,” he said. “We don’t rely on just one player.”
Burchett noted that one of his top pitchers, junior Cameron Clonch, hasn’t pitched in the postseason because of arm soreness, and might not be available in the championship series. That created an opportunity for sophomore Nick Merriman, who has been Mooresville’s No. 2 pitcher through the playoffs behind ace Justin Poris, a senior.
“Merriman has really stepped up when we needed him,” Burchett said. “We’ve done this whole run through the playoffs with those two guys.”
To get to the finals, the Blue Devils swept two games from Pfafftown’s Ronald Reagan High School May 21-22, with Merriman getting the win with six strong innings in the 9-6 series clincher at home.
Clonch and Quinn Ferguson homered for Mooresville, and Tafton Henley chipped in with an RBI triple.
Poris tossed a complete game in a 5-2 opening win at Reagan. Ferguson, Merriman and Davis Turner had RBIs for the Blue Devils, who scored the winning run on a passed ball.
Now comes the final test.
Adding to the emotion of the potential championship run is the fact that one of those 13 seniors, starting shortstop Blake Burchett, is the coach’s son and a key contributor.
“That’s been a little extra – going through this journey with him,” the coach said. “But honestly, I treat them all like my sons.”
Want to go?
Where: UNC Greensboro
When: Game 1 of the 4A finals will be at 5 p.m. Friday, May 31, with Game 2 at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 1. Game 5, if necessary, will be at 5 p.m. June 1.
Admission: $20 for all games and $8 for single games.