New Hanover baseball captures second straight 3A state title

***Click here to view a gallery of 35 photos from the action***

ZEBULON – Kyle Smith caught the final strike, threw off his catcher’s mask and jumped for joy.

Smith delivered a two-run home run and fellow senior Alex Sniffen pitched a complete game shutout to lead No. 1 New Hanover to a 4-0 victory over No. 10 Marvin Ridge in Game 2 of the NCHSAA state championship series.

The Wildcats (28-2), who picked up a 7-3 victory earlier in the day, swept the series to claim their second straight title.

Kyle Smith hit a two-run home run in the seventh inning. [Tim Hower/Coastal Preps]

“I’ve never been more excited to be on the bottom of about 1,000 pounds,” Smith said. “Somehow I came out of there without any scrapes or cuts. It will certainly be something I remember forever.”

It was the perfect final chapter for a group of seniors that will go down as one of the best in the history of the storied program.

During their four years, New Hanover went 98-16 and reached three consecutive state championship series. They became the third group to repeat as championship, joining the 1956-57 and 1993-94 teams.

“We knew our freshman year when we lost to Conley in the third round that we were going to do great things,” said Sniffen, who was named the series MVP.

“The biggest thing I’m going to remember is the relationships I’ve built on and off the field,” Smith added. “I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team that cared more about every single playe. I’m going to miss playing with these guys.”

Alex Sniffen tossed a complete-game shutout and was named the series MVP. [Tim Hower/Coastal Preps]

The game was scoreless through three innings until Chase Nixon singled home Smith, who had worked a one-out walk and moved to second on a base hit from Sniffen.

Blake Walston doubled home Alec Cortner in the top of the seventh inning and Smith followed with his two-run home run to give Sniffen more than enough run support.

Sniffen scattered six hits in another dominant performance. His ninth and final strikeout ended the game and the series. Seconds later, he and Smith were on the bottom of a dog pile.

“I can’t even explain the emotions,” Smith said. “I had been struggling a little bit, but not one kid or coach was not encouraging me. I couldn’t be more ecstatic right now.”

Nixon and leadoff hitter Jac Croom each finished with a pair of hits, while Walston, Smith and Jonathan Manis each reached base twice.

GAME 1

No. 1 New Hanover 7, No. 10 Marvin Ridge 3

Senior nine-hole hitter Alec Cortner drove in the game-winning run on bloop single to right field and the Wildcats scored three more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to open the series with a victory.

“Marvin Ridge is an exceptionally well-coached team,” New Hanover coach Richard Foy said said. “I anticipated a 2-1, 3-2 kind of game. We had some moments, but overall we were not particularly focused I didn’t think.”

Blake Walston pitched 6 2/3 innings to improve to 13-0. [Tim Hower/Coastal Preps]

New Hanover jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning on a solo home run off the left field scoreboard from Alex Sniffen and a two-out, two-run double from Cortner.

Marvin Ridge got a run in the third, fifth and sixth innings to even the score. The potential go-ahead run was cut down at the plate by second baseman Mac Hutchins and the Wildcats used that momentum to kick start their offense.

Chase Nixon led off the bottom of the sixth by reaching on an error and David MacCallum was hit by a pitch. Both runners moved up a base on a sacrifice bunt from Hutchins before Cortner’s bloop single found some grass to score Nixon.

“After they came back to tie it up, we were just looking to score one run and get the win,” Cortner said. “I popped it up, but the sun played a big factor in it falling.”

Leadoff hitter Jac Croom added a pair of insurance runs with a triple to the wall in right-center and he scored the final run on a ground out from Blake Walston.

Walston improved to 13-0 on the season by striking out eight in 6 2/3 innings. He faced a bases loaded jam with no outs in the third inning, but allowed only a single run on a sacrifice fly. Chase Hardee struck out the only batter he faced to earn the save.

Sniffen went 2-for-3 with a walk and MacCallum reached base in all three of his plate appearances.