FAYETTEVILLE — Even though the two schools are considered rivals, the White Hall and Watson Chapel baseball players were hanging out with each other a lot this past week, according to White Hall pitcher Chris Smith.
That might be OK under normal circumstances, but the two teams were going to play for a state title on Friday at Baum Stadium — against each other.
But Watson Chapel was watching White Hall’s semifinal game with earnest on Monday, and White Hall did during the Wildcats’ game.
Watson Chapel won the two games earlier this year — 3-2 and 3-0 — but even though White Hall could not hold regular season bragging rights, the players held the ultimate goal with the state title.
“Conference titles are nice, but state titles are even better,” Watson Chapel coach Chad Cope said.
Smith, a senior, had a problem coming up with the right thing to say after the victory over his rivals.
“Words can’t even describe it,” he said. “After we won the semifinals, we celebrated with some of our friends from Chapel, and they were saying they didn’t want anyone but us.”
Watson Chapel may be regretting that decision.
“They knew that we wanted it more than anything,” Smith said. “It was amazing.”
White Hall senior outfielder Nathan Lee said earlier in the week that all he could think about was the championship game.
“It would be like a dream come true,” he said. “Second chances are so far few and in between, so you have to take advantage of them.
“For 99 percent, it’s the last thing of athletic significance for the seniors and we have been rivals all of our lives, so it is pretty special.”
Lee is not signed to play athletically anywhere, so his last athletic moment is beating the rival school.
When the players for both teams were hanging out and chatting about the game, the fact that Watson Chapel beat White Hall twice did not come up much, or at least Smith does not remember much talk of it.
“It was definitely a fluke,” Smith said. “We are nowhere close to the team we were then. We started hitting the ball, came together as a team.”
The game also had significance for a White Hall “legend.” White Hall coach Skip Carr was the centerfielder on what was then the Bulldogs’ only state baseball title in 1980.
This time, he got to coach the team to a title, which included his son, junior Tyler. When asked which title felt better, there was no hesitation in his answer.
“Winning one as a coach feels better because I got to help and be with these kids every day,” he said. “It definitely feels better.”
For as good as win felt for White Hall, that is how bad the loss was for Watson Chapel. Justin Dardenne was the losing pitcher for the Wildcats. He pitched three innings and gave up three hits, two in the last inning and the game-winner to White Hall’s Kirk Baugh.
The memory of being the losing pitcher on the mound as a senior will not escape Dardenne easily.
“I am going to remember this game the rest of my life,” he said.
While this game may have heightened the rivalry, it will not ruin friendships, at least, which is the ultimate goal in the end.
But even friends can brag with one another.
“We are all friends, but I am going to brag a little bit,” Smith said. “I don’t feel bad at all. I wanted it so bad. Things just worked out. It is amazing.”