Beasley: national champ
A modest Craig Beasley will be the first one to tell you he didn’t have a heck of a lot to do with it, but national championships are national championships.
And how many people can say they won one?
Beasley, a 2005 West Rowan graduate, pitched in eight games for Mount Olive’s 58-6 baseball team this year. The southpaw traveled to Sauget, Ill., for the Division II national championships and will receive his ring in a few weeks.
“After we won, we were all celebrity superstars in Mount Olive,” Beasley said. “There were 3,000 people at the field to meet us when we came back. We signed autographs for two days.”
Beasley took an unusual path to celebrity status.
As a junior at West Rowan, he was a first baseman and outfielder on a powerhouse state runner-up. Beasley hit .417 and knocked in 25 runs for coach Chris Cauble’s 29-5 squad.
As a senior, Beasley hit .341 with 17 RBIs for a 19-7 club and made the NCPreps All-State team. He also pitched 16 innings, striking out 23 and posting a 1.75 ERA, but the Falcons also had Wade Moore, Weston Church, Brett Hatley and Bryan Aycoth. That meant Beasley’s bat was needed more than his arm.
The sturdy 6-footer hit .283 in 53 at-bats for the Legion team in the summer of 2005 and went 1-0 in 14 innings on the mound, but that was the season that ended prematurely because of player-eligibility issues.
Beasley’s career might have ended, but Rowan coach Jim Gantt called Louisburg.
“I didn’t make real good grades in high school and there weren’t many opportunities to go anywhere,” Beasley said. “But Coach (Tommy) Atkinson called me from Louisburg and said, ‘I hear you’re a pretty good lefty pitcher.’ I said, ‘Pitcher? Well, I’ll give it a shot.’ ”
That’s the day Beasley’s baseball focus changed from hitting to pitching.
His first year at Louisburg, it seemed like a mistake. Beasley suffered from tendinitis and an inflamed ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.
“A big ordeal,” Beasley said. “I got really behind.”
He caught up the next season, putting up a 5-1 record with a 3.45 ERA, but no doors opened at four-year schools.
The next year brought tough times. Beasley’s mother lost her father and brother in a matter of months, and he wanted to stick close to home. He went to work, enrolled in classes at Rowan-Cabarrus and put baseball on hold.
But coaches communicate, and Atkinson told Mount Olive coach Carl Lancaster that Beasley was worth a look.
“I was working at Crescent Golf Club, was out on a mower when Coach Lancaster called me,” Beasley said. “He was thinking I was still a sophomore at Louisburg. He asked me, ‘Shouldn’t you be in class right now? I told him that I’d finished at Louisburg and I was working. He told me to come for a visit, and we’d talk scholarship money.”
That conversation took place in the fall of 2007. Beasley enrolled at Mount Olive, which is near Goldsboro, last January. He was joining a top D-II program, he hadn’t thrown for eight months, and he’d missed fall workouts.
‘But I was accepted by the players right away,” Beasley said. “There are no outcasts at Mount Olive. It’s the first team I’ve ever been on where there wasn’t someone who didn’t like someone. Everyone gets along.”
In February, Beasley started on the mound against Shaw. He pitched four innings, struck out five and allowed three runs in a 15-3 romp.
“That’s about as jittery as I’ve ever been because I knew how good our team was and I didn’t want to mess up against a team that wasn’t all that good,” Beasley said. “But when you’re away from the mound as long as I was you lose some confidence.”
He threw three scoreless innings against both Shippensburg and Shepherd for the highlights of his season. For the year, he fanned 11 and allowed six runs in 142/3 innings. The most important thing was he got back into pitching shape.
“I didn’t expect to come in and take anyone’s spot, and I didn’t even want to,” Beasley said. “We had six senior pitchers that had worked all fall. They deserved to be out there.”
Mount Olive climbed to the No. 1 spot nationally and stayed there with a 23-game winning streak.
“That puts a bull’s eye on you, not just for the league (Conference Carolinas) but for the whole country,” Beasley said.
Mount Olive was the host team for a regional and won it. Beasley’s only appearance was as a pinch-runner.
“Coach told me I’d better not doing anything to make him look stupid,” Beasley said with a laugh.
Mount Olive lost a regional game to USC Aiken, but it came back to beat the Pacers twice to earn a trip to the nationals.
“Not many D-II teams get to get on an airplane,” Beasley said. “We felt like we were D-I guys. We met at the field at 5:30 in the morning, drove an hour to Raleigh and got on a plane. We stopped in Chicago before we got to Sauget. The Midwest is crazy. It was like 92 degrees one minute, 52 the next.”
Mount Olive’s first game was pivotal. It rallied for four runs in the ninth to beat Ouachita State (Ark.) 6-5 in a marathon that included a lengthy weather delay.
Ouachita fought back to earn another shot at Mount Olive in the televised title game, but the yellow-clad Trojans rode the pitching of Atlanta draft pick Casey Hodges to a 6-2 victory and their first national crown.
“All I could think about was when I was at West,” Beasley said. “I remembered what that felt like and how much losing the championship game hurt, and I knew it was a feeling I didn’t want to feel again.”
He didn’t have to, and when Mount Olive returned to Raleigh-Durham Airport, it was louder than when it left.
“They announced to the whole airport that the national champions were home, and there was lots of clapping and cameras flashing,” Beasley said. “We had a police escort back to the school, and the whole town was there to see us. Looking back, it’s a big blur, but it’s a really great feeling.”
Mount Olive graduated a dozen seniors and had five players drafted. That means Beasley has an opportunity for an expanded role.
“I’ll be a senior in the classroom, but a junior in the field because of that year at Louisburg when I was hurt,” Beasley said. “I think I’ll get called on a lot more next year, and I’m putting my work in.
“I’m even working on my hitting.”
You never know. Beasley’s career has taken unexpected turns before.
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.