By Richard Taylor
It seemed like the movie “Groundhog Day” as the Ocracoke Island varsity baseball team tried to get off the island five times last week to get to the first round of the East 1A baseball playoffs.
“We kept getting cancelled over and over again,” quipped head coach Jim McClain at the Silver Lake ferry terminal, as both Pamlico Sound ferries were cancelled for the fifth straight time on May 12. “We’re going to be ready for the next ferry that leaves this island and see what happens after that.”
Finally, the weather broke just enough on Thursday for Ocracoke’s 10-3 baseball team and a small group of parents to board the first ferry leaving South Dock to make the long trip to Roxboro, Person County.
After reaching Hatteras, the NCDOT escorted the islanders past the just-reopened section of N.C. 12 north of Rodanthe, allowing the caravan to reach Oregon Inlet by 1 p.m.
From there, the 20th-seeded Dolphins endured four more hours of travel, before playing 13th-seeded Roxboro Community in Optimist Park at 7 p.m.
The game did not go well for the Outer Banks visitors. The home team Bulldogs capitalized on numerous Dolphin fielding errors, shutting them out 14-0 in five innings.
The school activity bus returned home and backed into its parking space at 3:30 p.m. Friday. There Laura McClain, PTA chair and wife of coach McClain consoled the Dolphins as they stepped of the bus carrying their gear, some carrying pillows.
“Nice job guys,” she said. “I know, it wasn’t the game you wanted, but you did it. You went to the states.”
Sitting in a nearby golf cart facing the Flying Melon restaurant, infielder/outfielder Finn Kattenburg reflected, “It was a really long trip, but it was good.”
As team members waited for their parents, starting pitcher Damon Esham said, “We were really tired, and we couldn’t pull it together. We had some errors. There’s not much to talk about. They were a good team.”
“If we deleted all our fielding errors, we would have only lost, 2-0,” Coach McClain said back at school. “So, after many hours on the bus, playing under the lights in drizzling rain, it was just difficult conditions. It was the third day we were trying to get there. We were tired, but we never got down.
“We’re the toughest baseball team in the state. Show me another one that tried for three days and traveled for 7 ½ hours. We had a couple of good hits and made some fair plays; we had some good pitching. We kept our heads up and we had fun.”
Ocracoke’s ended their regular season May 2 with a 14-3 victory over the winless Mattamuskeet. The first-round playoff game against Roxboro Community was originally scheduled for May 10 at 6 p.m.
Except for two scoreless losses to conference leader Bear Grass Charter earlier, the Dolphins won most conference games with lopsided margins after five innings, due to the 10-run “mercy rule.”
The team easily dominated Columbia, Mattamuskeet and hapless arch-rival Hatteras twice each, ending their season second (6-2) in the Atlantic 5 1A conference.
Seniors Jackson Strange, Julian Bennink and Brandt O’Neal were honored with flowers for their families on Senior Day on April 27, before the never-say-die Dolphins squeezed out a last inning home victory over the First Flight Nighthawks JVs from Kill Devil Hills, 7-6.
McClain was pleased with how his upper classmen have played over the years.
“Seniors always provide the leadership,” he said. “They’ve worked hard. They’re having fun and we’re playing baseball at a very high level. It’s been great seeing them mature as players and as young men. I’ll be sad not to get to play with them anymore. They’re all off to do great things.”
McClain also praised Maren Donlon’s role in Ocracoke sports.
“I think she’s been a role model and she keeps a lot of the guys in check,” he said.
The four-sport sophomore will attend The N.C. School of Math and Science in Durham this fall and she could play baseball there if she wants.
He said that pitching has been the Dolphins’ top strength.
“We also have a good group of freshmen that have been putting in a lot of practice time pitching,” he said.
McClain praised his assistant coaches.
“That includes everybody that’s there, day in and day out, like Ernie Doshier and David Scott Esham, who doesn’t even have a child on the team anymore,” he said. “David Scott works harder than I do. He keeps me honest, in line and focused throughout the season.”
John Kattenburg and others step up and keep the scorebooks at the games.
“Baseball requires a lot of commitment and attention to detail, not just from the kids, but from the school and the community, and that includes the fan base and the people that take care of the facilities,” he said.
Cathy Scarborough, Gavin and Max Elicker’s mom, traveled with the team to Roxboro.
“Our big win was actually getting off the island,” she said following the heartbreaking loss. “They’ll remember this forever.”
Atlantic 5 Conference leader Bear Grass Charter won their first and second round games last week. Roxboro Community won their second-round game Friday.
In the slideshow below are scenes from this year’s baseball season.