Three baseball teams from The Herald’s coverage area reached high school state championship series last spring, and two of them -- Northwestern and Lewisville -- won state titles.
Northwestern’s championship was its first after years of contention, while Lewisville claimed the school’s seventh 1A baseball state title.
The two western York County teams would like a piece of that action.
But what does it take to get there?
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The Clover Blue Eagles and York Cougars are trying to solve that riddle, led by their head coaches Hank Wofford and Eddie Tisdale.
“In the high school landscape, I don’t know if you’d call York or Clover relevant in baseball,” said Tisdale. “But we’re trying to get there. Hank is doing the same thing that I’m trying to do over here, and it’s fun to watch.”
Both men are in their fourth year as head coach at rival schools. So naturally their success, and their teams’ success, will be compared.
“Hank and I go back to coaching travel baseball together,” Tisdale said. “And I love watching a coach like him. He knows how to get the most out of his kids. You can tell that they love playing for him.”
Both played college baseball -- Tisdale at Winthrop and Wofford at Lenoir-Rhyne. Wofford was a Clover Blue Eagle in high school and a 2006 graduate, so he has a little more experience with the rivalry, and he pointed out that there are a lot of transplants that have moved into the area and don’t know as much about it.
“The people that grew up here, it means a lot to them,” Wofford said. “And we talk to the guys about it. They were strong when I was in high school. When they came up on the schedule, everybody got excited. And that’s the way we want it now.”
The two rivals have played each other eight times in the last three-plus years, with Clover winning five. That includes this year’s season split last week, with each winning on the road.
“The rivalry is great, but if it was up to me I don’t necessarily know if I would even play these games, really and truly,” said Tisdale, echoing a sentiment that has been voiced by York football coach Bobby Carroll. “But it is a fun atmosphere and there’s a lot of people here. It’s a fiery game. It’s not a region game, but I’d love to win it.”
The Cougars fired the first shot last week and took the opener 9-3, before the Blue Eagles evened it up with a 10-7 victory March 9. Michael Angelou homered and had three RBI for Clover in the second game, as the Blue Eagles took advantage of three errors to put up a four-run first inning.
“I told our guys in a series like this, they’re going to come ready to play,” Tisdale said. “They’re going to have high energy and want to come back and avenge the loss. And they were able to keep it just out of our reach. But our primary focus is getting our guys pointed in the right direction and trying to win a region championship.”
York plays in the 4A classification and Clover in 5A, so they play their rivalry contests before their region schedules begin.
“It’s hard to get an environment like this before you go into region play,” Wofford said.
The schools have each won a football state title and also experienced success in girls’ sports. The Cougars won it all in girls’ basketball in 2002 behind All-American Ivory Latta, while coach Shea Hall led the Clover softball team to the promised land in 2014 and has her team in contention nearly every year.
In Wofford’s second year, the Blue Eagles won 19 games overall and three games in the playoffs. York has been about a .500 club the last three seasons, but the Cougars won a baseball state championship back in 1977 under Tom Weaver. Clover has never reached a baseball championship series.
Consistent postseason success has evaded both programs. There is a lot of work ahead for both young coaches, something they’re reminded of when they face each other each spring.
“As far as the rivalry goes, I think it’s just continuing to better our brand of baseball all the way around,” Wofford said.