Legion baseball: 1984 team overcame slow start
By Mike London
Rock bottom came on June 13, 1984 ó an 8-6 loss against Mooresville that plunged the Rowan County American Legion team’s record to an unheard of 2-6.
That was only the latest misery. A few nights earlier, Rowan had left the bases loaded six times in a 16-13 loss to Lexington.
The Post’s sports section was filled with gloom. Things looked so bleak fans who counted on Legion baseball for summer entertainment started planning beach trips. In his report on the Mooresville disaster, sportswriter Brad Hamm glumly typed that not since 1952 had a Joe Ferebee-coached Salisbury/Rowan team failed to make the playoffs. Hamm also mentioned that Rowan’s last losing season under any coach had been in 1965.
Looking back, 25 years later, it’s an amazing story. From the ashes of that early despair arose a state champion.
Chris Cauble, the catcher on the 1984 team, gives a lot of credit for a turnaround to a stellar pitching staff that featured Kris Huffman, Jeff Holshouser, Robbie Linder, Tim Wyrick and Dale Thomason. Cauble gives even more credit to Ferebee.
“The stands at Newman Park started out full, then they were getting kind of empty, but Coach never batted an eye,” Cauble said. “A lot of people stopped believing in us. He never did. He just kept plugging, moving people around, getting people in the best spots.”
Cauble auditioned at second and third base before finding a permanent home behind the plate.
He became known as “The Cannon.”
“That team started slow because it just hadn’t gotten together,” said Ferebee, who retains the memory of an elephant. “I don’t think anyone expected us to go anywhere, but we had good material. We practiced every day we didn’t play. Then we got a little chemistry going.”
There was solid material. Huffman (the shortstop), Linder, third baseman Brad Mickle and first baseman Steve Clark had played for a 21-3 Salisbury High team.
Holshouser (the center fielder), right fielder Greg Holmes and second baseman Tim Trexler had keyed a North Rowan squad that made the state playoffs. Thomason, a slugger as well as the No. 5 starter, was the key addition off a South Rowan team that won the SPC championship.
Cauble and Wyrick were East Rowan guys. Left fielder Jeff Simpson was from West Rowan. All five county schools were represented in the lineup every night.
June 15 was Joe Ferebee Night at Newman Park, with proceeds earmarked for the baseball field at Pfeiffer that bears the legendary coach’s name. Few fans showed up to honor the coach of a 2-6 team.
That was a turning point. Big crowd or not, Huffman, coming off one of the great high schools seasons in county history ó11-1, 0.98 ERA, three one-hitters ó wasn’t going to lose on Joe Ferebee Night, not even against a Concord team that rolled into Newman Park unbeaten. Huffman pitched a shutout. Concord’s Jeff Riley threw a one-hitter, but that hit was a two-run single by Holshouser.
Rowan went to Kannapolis the next night. J. Michael Johnson, a devoted fan who would become the team’s P.A. man for a decade, points at that game as a key to all that followed. Rowan went to Kannapolis batting .208 as team. It banged out 17 hits and Wyrick, who hadn’t been lucky, was brilliant. He tossed an 87-pitch four-hitter.
“We still had to play catch-up, but we hardly ever looked back,” Johnson said. “That’s the night it came together.”
Still, Rowan had dug a hole and only four teams made the playoffs. Holshouser’s dramatic homer off Mocksville star pitcher David Mabe gave Rowan a win and a .500 mark for the first time at 6-6.
The fans returned in force as Rowan charged. It finished the regular season in fourth place. It moved up to the No. 3 seed for the playoffs when division champion Concord, which had turned in paperwork after deadline, was disqualified after protests were filed. Thomasville got in the field as the No. 4 seed.
Rowan surprisingly swept Mocksville in a first-round series that included a 15-strikeout effort by Holshouser.
In the Southern Division championship series with Thomasville, Rowan’s road games were played at Lexington’s Holt-Moffitt Field. Rowan won the series 4-1 despite hitting .196 as a team.
Game 2 is remembered. Huffman lost a shutout on the last pitch he threw, but he won 2-1. On that final play, Rowan executed a double relay on a ball hammered into the right-field corner. Holmes, headed for the Marine Corps, threw to Trexler. He fired to Cauble, who made the tag at the plate to cut down the tying run.
The Area III championship series with Asheboro went seven games. Three went to extra innings, including Game 7 at Newman Park on July 31. It was tied 12-12 when Mickle and Cauble walked in the ninth to set up a series-deciding single by Linder.
Johnson rates that series one of the three or four best in Rowan’s storied history.
Rowan was exhausted heading into the Western N.C. championship series with rested Charlotte Paw Creek. Ferebee had needed three of his top four pitchers to win that seventh game with Asheboro. Rowan got one day off before Paw Creek came to Newman Park. Paw Creek was 31-5, but Wyrick won the critical opener 6-5 and Rowan took the series 4-1.
The play most remembered is Holshouser’s tumbling catch in center field to end Game 4. It was Ferebee’s eighth Western N.C. title.
Rowan took on Hope Mills, near Fayetteville, in a best-of-seven series for the state championship.
“We’d all expected to play Wayne County,” Ferebee said. “It wasn’t like Hope Mills was bad. Probably there wasn’t that much difference between them and us. We just got the jump on them.”
It was quite a jump. With Newman Park packed and intimidating, Rowan scored 11 runs in the bottom of the first in Game 1. Rowan went on to win 21-0. Thomason had a two-run double and three-run homer in the first inning.
Hope Mills never recovered. The series was 21-0, 14-1, 14-3 and 16-6. Rowan had hit 10 homers all season. It blasted 10 in four games against Hope Mills, including four by Trexler alone.
After that, Ferebee took 13 players to Florida and won three games in the Southeastern Regional before being eliminated by two losses to champion Puerto Rico.
Huffman (11-1) lost his perfect season against Puerto Rico.
“What I remember about Puerto Rico is one of their guys tagging up from second base and scoring on a flyball to center field,” Cauble said. “And Holshouser had a pretty good arm. Kinda unheard of.”
Still, from 2-6 to 35-16 was a memorable journey.
“To start out so slow,” Ferebee said, “that was a team that had a great ending.”