Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 9, 2007
Hard to say which tall tale brought louder laughs ó Barry Moore’s inside-the-park homer at Webb Field, Dick Coulter’s three-pitch rescue of Don Heglar or Jumpin’ Joe Dean’s hayloft accident.Ex-West Rowan Falcon baseball players turned coach Bobby Rusher’s spacious home into a dugout on Friday. They relived old times and a 21-game NPC winning streak.
Besides barbecue, the 1960 NPC championship, the 1961 Western North Carolina High School Activities Association title and the one-loss, heartbreak 1962 season were on the menu.
Moore was the most famous fellow in the room because he reached the majors. He looks like an average guy, but electricity rippled through his left arm four decades ago. He whipped lightning hitters couldn’t see, and he struck you out, hit you or walked you. If you got on, he was a decent bet to wild-pitch you around the bases.
In two years at West, Moore fired seven one-hitters, four two-hitters and struck out the world.
“Good as Barry was, it still wasn’t a given when he pitched,” Rusher said. “Control could be a problem.”
Catcher Gary McNeely recalled a game against Mooresville.
“Ronnie Clodfelter led off, and he was my cousin, so I thought I’d better warn him,” McNeely said. “I said, ‘Look, this guy can be a little wild.’ Then Barry’s first pitch hit Ronnie in the ribs, and just sort of stuck there.”
Moore lasted six years in the majors. He won 26 times, including a one-hit gem against the Twins in 1967. But Moore’s most memorable game isn’t his great outing against the Twins or pitching to Mickey Mantle at Yankee Stadium. Instead, it’s his three-hitter against Cherryville in the 1961 WNCHSAA championship game.
“I saw a lot of games,” Moore said. “Cherryville is the one I remember most. It’s the one we all remember.”
In the fall of 1959, West Rowan opened its doors as a consolidated school, bringing together country boys from Mount Ulla, Cleveland and Woodleaf under one roof.
“We had good athletes, but no one knew what to expect,” Rusher said. “These were boys from small schools, who’d been playing against each other. Now they were going to be playing Mooresville and Davie County.”
West’s first football team was 4-6, but the basketball team, built around 1,000-point scorer McNeely, went 19-2 overall and 15-1 in the NPC. The new school had its first trophy.
Rusher wasn’t a lot older than his players. He’d been a great athlete at East Spencer and was coaching the Spencer Legion team while still playing ball at Catawba. The ink on his diploma wasn’t dry when he was hired to pilot West’s first baseball team.McNeely was a take-charge leader. Heglar, a 6-foot-5 lefty, fired bullets that rivaled Moore’s. Shortstop Jimmy Summitt could hit. Rusher’s challenge was to mold them into a unit.
Snow was frequent. There were many gym practices with plastic balls. West lost two practice games, but the winning started in its final practice game against Davie. Moore pitched a one-hitter, but it was scoreless when Summitt came up with the bases loaded in the seventh. The count went to 3-and-0. Rusher gave the automatic take sign. Summitt missed the signal and drilled a game-winning single.
“If you hadn’t gotten that hit,” Rusher reminded a grinning Summitt 47 years later, “there would have been a little prayer meeting.”
Summitt’s swing started it. West beat Winecoff in its NPC opener, then flattened East Rowan 12-0. McNeely’s three-run homer led a rout of Monroe. Heglar pitched an eight-inning win over Mooresville.
Moore blew away Davie, Troutman and North Rowan down the stretch, and West was 8-0 in its first NPC season. In his last three league starts, Moore allowed five hits and struck out 38.
The 1960 season ended with a loss to A.L. Brown in the Piedmont championship game. Moore held the Wonders to one hit ó a bunt ó and struck out 14, but he lost.
The 1961 season also began with two practice losses, but the Falcons wouldn’t lose again. Moore and Heglar were back, and they took turns striking out hitters.
“But everyone gunned for us and saved their best pitcher for us and all the pressure was on us,” Rusher said. “It was never easy in the NPC.”
Moore held East to one hit, and McNeely launched a tape-measure homer. Heglar squeezed in Loy Sigmon with the run that beat Davie 5-4.
Benny Robbins, a 15-year-old, scored on McNeely’s triple to beat Mooresville 2-1.
Coulter, the third pitcher, beat Troutman with a strong relief outing. Moore capped a second straight 8-0 NPC season with 13 strikeouts against North Rowan.West beat South Piedmont champion Concord 3-1 in the Piedmont championship game. McNeely threw out three Spiders trying to steal. Moore fanned 14, but his inside-the-park home run is what teammates remember. There was lightning in Moore’s arm, but not his legs.”Barry hits the ball 400-something feet at Webb Field, to the goalposts in center field, McNeely said. “Then he trips over first, falls flat on his face and is laying there spread-eagle on the ground. But he still scores standing up.”Ex-big leaguer Clyde Kluttz scouted Cherryville for West because Rusher had Legion obligations. The most valuable nugget Kluttz offered was ó “Catcher is good but scatter-armed.”
West hung in the title game on an unseasonably cold night at Newman Park. Moore was on fire, McNeely threw out more basestealers, and right fielder Robbins gunned down a runner at third to save the game. Kenneth Kluttz, who made the tag at third, is deceased, but as long as he lived, he never forgot.”Every time I ever saw Ken after that, 10 years later, 20, he mentioned that throw,” said Robbins, who batted .450. “He’d say, ‘Benny, I never even had to move my glove.’ “It was 1-1 in the fifth when a throw gave the Falcons the title. Summitt was on second base, and Rusher remembered Kluttz’s report.
“I thought that might be our only chance,” he said. “I could see their catcher coming up and throwing it away.”
Summitt broke for third.
“I thought he was crazy,” McNeely said. “But the throw goes to the fence, and he scores the winning run.”
In 1962, Heglar pitched two no-hitters, and Coulter was solid as Moore’s replacement in the rotation.
West led Mooresville 4-0 in the fifth inning early in the season when Heglar loaded the bases and fell behind the next hitter 3-and-0. Rusher switched first baseman Coulter to the mound, and Coulter threw three pitches for a strikeout. Heglar returned to the mound the next inning and completed an 11-0 victory, but Coulter’s squeezed 45 years of bragging rights out of those three pitches.
“Sure Coulter struck that guy out,” joked Heglar, who stays busy playing in a softball league with his grandson. “He got tired of waiting for the ball to get up there.”
West won its first five NPC games in 1962 to match East Rowan. Heglar and East lefty Dale Lefler both brought 0.00 ERAs into a showdown, and both pitched two-hitters. But the Mustangs won 1-0 and halted West’s NPC winning streak at 21 games.
Still, West’s record for its first three seasons is terrific. For the men who bonded and built that streak, it’s even more important now than it was 45 years ago.
How important? Outfielder Clarke Graham made the trip from California to be part of the reunion.
Rusher gave all his players baseballs after the 1961 season. Every time one of those balls is pulled out of a trophy case and held, an ex-Falcon remembers a special time.”These guys accomplished something to be proud of,” Rusher said. “Something to tell their grandchildren.”
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or email@example.com.