Finishing on top
It’s Sept. 16, 2005 and I’m standing on the visitors’ sideline at Calvert High School before the Cavaliers’ football game with the Lackey Chargers.
As the teams head off the field following warmups in the moments before kickoff, I’m left with a kid I had covered a couple months prior in a District 7 11-year-old baseball championship game. Lackey’s football team was coming off two consecutive state runner-up finishes but had graduated a fair amount of talent from the previous year, so, knowing he was at the previous week’s game — I had covered Westlake’s 42-6 win over Northern in Week 1 — I asked him how the Chargers looked in their season opener, a 26-12 win over Patuxent.
“Well, during the game I thought we looked pretty good,” the 11-year-old replied, before pausing, shooting me a sideways glance and finishing, “but then I watched the tape.”
Ugly as the season start may have been perceived by the team’s youthful critic, Lackey defeated Calvert 32-14 on that Week 2 night behind a 200-plus-yard rushing performance by Michael Johnson. The team dropped its next two games, but then finished the regular season on a six-game win streak and ultimately reached the Class 3A South championship game before losing to eventual state champion Gwynn Park of Prince George’s County. It was to be the final season at Lackey for then-head coach Scott Chadwick, who moved to Georgia and later North Carolina.
The kid on the sidelines that night at Calvert was his oldest son, Tyler. A few years later, Tyler started at quarterback for three years for his father at Marvin Ridge High in North Carolina. He threw for 5,670 yards and 50 touchdowns and the team logged a 24-4 regular season record in his starts. He eclipsed the 5,000-yard passing plateau on a completion to his brother, Cody.
And last week, on June 30 to be precise, Tyler celebrated an NCAA national championship as a member of Coastal Carolina University’s baseball team. He started at second base during the College World Series in Omaha and hit safely in 6 of the Chanticleers’ 8 games in Omaha. He went 9 for 29 with a home run, 3 runs scored and 2 RBIs over the final eight games.
Against Arizona in the final game of the championship series, the Chanticleers fought off a late Wildcats rally to nail down the 4-3 win and the school’s first national championship. With the tying run on first with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Arizona’s Ryan Aguilar hit a double to left field that Coastal left fielder Anthony Marks got back to the infield quickly to keep the tying run at third base. Then, with the potential winning run for Arizona at second base, pitcher Alex Cunningham ran a full count on the next batter before sealing the win with a strikeout.
“The last inning was pretty intense,” Chadwick said on Tuesday night, reflecting on the final sequence. “We got the first out and then there was a walk, another out and a double. It was a pretty intense last inning. Marks getting that ball in on the double was probably one of the biggest plays of the year.
“AC is a great pitcher. Second and third with two outs, I trust him there more than most people. He likes to make things interesting, so he got to a 3 [-ball]-2 [strike] count. When he struck him out there were just so many emotions. The four years of being here, all the hard work that you’ve put in and the ups and downs throughout the four years. When he struck him out it was one of those moments where all those things kind of run through your head. You’re kind of just motionless. I couldn’t even really move. But then I kind of snapped to it and went and got in the dog pile. It was just an unbelievable feeling.”
During his time with the program, Chadwick had seen just about everything, from the national championship conclusion to his career to a sub-.500 season his sophomore year. Entering this season, the team knew it had an opportunity to be good, though the thoughts of ending the season with a win in the final game were not exactly at the front of anybody’s mind.
“When the [Major League Baseball] draft concluded last year we realized that we were going to get just about everyone back,” Chadwick said. “We lost like two key contributors last year, one was our catcher and one was a starting pitcher. But we knew we had the majority of our team back. As soon as the draft was over and we realized that we knew that expectations were going to be pretty high. We knew we were getting a few good freshmen, so we knew they were going to be high.
“Our whole goal was to get to Omaha. We wanted to get there, to get [head coach Gary Gilmore] there for the first time in his career. A national championship was kind of an afterthought. But definitely going into it we knew we had a really good team. We just didn’t know we were going to do something that special.”
An arduous road
The Chanticleers’ road to the title was arduous, as they had to go on the road to N.C. State in the regionals, then on to LSU to play the Tigers in arguably college baseball’s most intense environment. In Omaha, Coastal started with a 2-1 win over Florida, which had been ranked No. 1 for much of the season, before playing TCU and Texas Tech. Coastal played through all of the adversity, through several elimination contests to earn its championship.
“I think it was just such a senior-led team and we’d kind of been through everything,” Chadwick said. “We’d all been on the team freshman year that played in a regional. We were on a team that was one of the worst teams in school history my sophomore year. Then my junior year we again went to the regional on the road, at [Texas] A&M, which is one of the craziest atmospheres to play in in college baseball. We’ve been through it all.
“At that point [this year], going to all those places, nothing fazed us. At the end of the day we all kind of bought into the fact that we were going to play each day for what it is. We were going to trust the process of it all and never get too emotionally high or too emotionally low. I think that kind of showed. Not many teams can function at a high level at LSU, in a tie game in the ninth inning or bases loaded with no outs, which we had multiple times. If you watch the players on the field or in the dugout, nothing really fazed us. That’s just a testament to the senior leadership we had and just the fact that we took each moment for what it was.”
Adding to the adversity on a personal level, Chadwick suffered a torn oblique during batting practice before the Big South Conference tournament championship game, rendering him basically a spectator during the early portion of the NCAA tournament. But when a need arose, similar to his sophomore year when he stepped in to play catcher when the team needed it, Chadwick answered the call.
“It was really, really tough,” he said of the injury. “At N.C. State I couldn’t even take BP. I didn’t play much there. At LSU I only played one game and pinch-hit. But in those 2 1/2 weeks I kind of figured out ways to swing without it hurting as bad. That, coupled with some of the medicine they gave me, it started to become where it was very tolerable.”
The celebratory scrum on the field in Omaha is likely the last act in Chadwick’s baseball playing career, as he was not selected in this year’s MLB draft. Chadwick, who is listed at 5 feet 9 inches, played primarily first base during his college career and, similar to high school quarterbacks looking for college opportunities, there isn’t much of a market in professional baseball for 5-9 first basemen. He did receive some calls from a few independent league teams, he said, but his mind is now on other things. Turns out the kid who watched game film has an itch to coach football himself, and the opportunity he currently has at Coastal is more enticing than the rigors of an independent baseball team schedule.
“I was hoping that the draft would work out, but in the back of my mind I kind of knew it was going to be tough,” he said. “My whole career I played first base. Being 5-8, there aren’t many first baseman who get drafted at 5-8. Maybe if I had played second base more of my career there would have been a chance for that to happen, but it was just kind of too late. I got a few calls from a few independent teams, but I’ve been at Coastal here for the last year-and-a-half, two years as a football intern. They’ve given me that opportunity to be able to work with the quarterbacks and the offense. It’s something I don’t want to miss out on. I want to get into coaching, whether at the college level or the high school level. I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity. I figured that the internship outweighed the independent ball. I’m very content with how my college career ended.”
And I’d bet he won’t ever mind watching that tape.
Coastal Carolina’s Tyler Chadwick hits a solo home run in the team’s June 25 game against TCU during the College World Series in Omaha. Chadwick, the son of former Lackey head football coach Scott Chadwick, started at second base during each of the Chanticleers’ eight games in Omaha and helped the team to its first NCAA championship.