It was fitting that the Winston-Salem State baseball team won another championship in the final season of a nine-year run of success.
On Sunday in Marion at the Division II Independent Tournament, the Rams beat Virginia State 4-0 to claim the title. The Rams went 4-1 in the tournament as their season has likely come to an end.
There’s an outside chance WSSU could get into the Atlantic Region playoffs, but Coach Kevin Ritsche said the Rams are long shots to make the Division II regional tournament.
The school decided six weeks ago to pull the plug on the program, which has given Ritsche time to come to grips with the end. If this is the end, winning a championship wasn’t a bad way to go out.
“You just tell them how proud you are of them,” Ritsche said of his post-game comments to his team Sunday night. “Just in case it’s the last time you get to coach them you want them to know how proud our whole staff was with how they performed under these circumstances.”
The Rams, who finished 35-16, won at least 30 games in all nine of their seasons since the program was brought back in 2010. Ritsche was hired that year by Bill Hayes, who was the athletics director, to start a program from scratch. WSSU opened with a bang in 2011 by winning the CIAA title.
The school hadn’t had baseball in 38 years.
Since the players and coaches learned the program was being disbanded because of budgetary reasons, the Rams went 21-9, which according to Ritsche, is a testament to how much they bonded together.
“Everything that Coach Ritsche had put in place prepared all of us for even this tremendous unforeseen situation,” assistant coach Enad Haddad said. “To go through such a tough situation and come out on top is invaluable.”
Haddad said it’s hard for the players to realize now the valuable life lessons they will take away from this season.
Ritsche is still working to find new teams and schools for players with remaining eligibility.
“I just know I’ll be with these players until the end as we try to get them to other schools to continue their careers,” Ritsche said. “That’s my main goal right now and some of them will get chances so we’re thankful for that.”
Cole Parks was the MVP of the tournament and was named to the All-Tournament team with Tyler Daniels and Joe Joplin. Parks went all nine innings to get the victory on Sunday.
“Cole was outstanding in that final game, and as the game went along we pretty much figured he wasn’t going to come out,” Ritsche said about the nine-inning victory.
This season, Parks set school records for wins in a season (12) and most strikeouts in a season (102). He also posted a .333 batting average with six home runs and 35 RBIs.
Unless there’s a change down the line, Parks’ school records might last forever.
“I hope that’s not the case and they get baseball again sometime,” Ritsche said, “but that’s not my decision.”
Several WSSU players had great seasons. E.P. Reese, a former North Davidson player, hit .401 with four home runs, 34 RBIs and a team-best 26 stolen bases. Nick Williams finished with a .339 batting average with six home runs and 49 RBIs. Hunter Phillips hit .284 with seven homers and 38 RBIs.
Luke Spiva had 16 stolen bases and had 32 RBI’s and
“A lot of guys had really good years and were pretty consistent,” Ritsche said.
Besides Parks, Jalen Scott went 6-4 with a 3.76 ERA and Parker Strader went 4-1 with one save. Avery Cain wound up 4-2 and James Martin was 3-0 on the season.
Ritsche ends his nine seasons with a 319-169 record and six CIAA titles. Before the CIAA stopped sponsoring baseball, WSSU had won seven straight regular-season titles and made it to the Division II playoffs five times in nine years.
“I’m going to miss this,” he said. “All these guys have been great character guys and that makes it so much easier to coach them.”