By: Carson Dockery
The summer of 2017 saw the Gastonia Grizzlies win 30 games, 20 of them at home, start a franchise-best 7-0, and bring home the franchise’s second Petitt Cup Championship, first since 2011. After entering the playoffs as the west division’s number four seed, they immediately faced an uphill battle taking on the number one overall seed Forest City Owls. After dispatching their division semifinal opponents 11-4, the Grizzlies swept the Savannah Bananas (7-4, 9-0). Gastonia completed their undefeated postseason with a 2-0 sweep of the Wilmington Sharks, coming back from down 4-0 in game one, to win 7-4. Game two was scheduled for seven innings, and Gastonia’s bats did plenty of damage in their shortened time, winning the clincher by a score of 12-3.
Statistically, this Grizzlies team was also one of the best in the history of the club. Six Grizzlies had batting averages over .290 (Harris Yett .351, Jackson Mims .342, Joey Smithers .333, Chaz Davey .313, Ryan Cox .299, and Alex Sosnowski .297). Thomas Yoder led the team with seven home runs and 14 doubles; Chaz Davey tallied the most hits with 62 and led the club with 31 RBIs; and Austin Riggins had a team-high 11 stolen bases. Five Gastonia pitchers posted ERAs of 3.00 or lower while appearing at least 5 times (Luke Mercer 2.63, Colby Bruce 2.70, Daniel Wiggins 2.73, Noah Thompson 3.00, and Jacob Breakfield 3.00). Billy Layne led the club with five victories on the season; Noah Thompson was tops on the team with 56 strikeouts; and Jacob Breakfield was the workhorse of the rotation, racking up 55 2/3 innings pitched.
Gastonia turned it on when it counted; posting the best team batting average, .341, and team ERA, 3.14, during the Petitt Cup playoffs. The Grizzlies also led all playoff teams in stolen bases with 9, and opposing batting average at .167.
Jaymie Russ Pitcher of the Year
The Bessemer City High alumnus didn’t disappoint the hometown fans in his second summer with the Grizzlies. Breakfield posted a 3-3 record, in a team-high ten starts, and led the Grizzlies rotation with 55.2 innings pitched during the regular season. Jacob came up in big games and big situations all summer long, including getting the win in the one-game division semifinal against Forest City.
Tyler White Batter of the Year
The UNC-Charlotte 49er showed improvement in his second season with Gastonia, raising his average from .267 in 2016, to a team-high .351 this summer. Yett also led the club with .436 on-base percentage, tied for first with eight hit-by-pitches, and was third on the team with 54 hits. Yett also showed great plate discipline, striking out only 12 times in 154 at-bats.
David Chester Power Hitter
The Belmont Abbey product was a consistent middle of the order threat for the Grizzlies all season long. Yoder led the Grizzlies in home runs, doubles, and extra-base hits with seven, 14 and 21, respectively. He was also second on the club with 28 RBIs. Thomas kept his bat alive into the postseason, where he would hit two more home runs, drive in 9 runs in 5 games, and batted .421.
Michael Heesch Postseason Performer
Layne was no slouch during the regular season, leading Gastonia with five wins. He turned it up in the playoffs, and gave the Grizzlies two of the most important performances of the postseason. First, he had a near no-hitter in the elimination game of the west division finals against Savannah. He was then tasked with getting the final three outs of the season in game two of the Petitt Cup Finals in Wilmington. He pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh to clinch Gastonia’s second league title.
Danny Fraga Toughness Award
If you watched the Gastonia Grizzlies play this summer, you were almost guaranteed to see the Kutztown product penciled in at shortstop. Cox played in 53 of Gastonia’s 56 games and started 52 of them. That’s the most appearances in a single season since Billy Urban in 2012 (55). Cox wasn’t only consistently on the field, he consistently made plays. Whether it was turning a double play with Matt McGarry, or keeping an inning alive with a two-out single, you could count on Ryan Cox.
Wiley Jackson-Joey Smithers Character Award
From hustling out of the dugout to chase a foul ball in the corner, to his very vocal personality, or his penchant for taking warmup swings with seven bats and a bear head on, it was hard to miss Joey Smithers. The USC-Aiken Pacer was always able to keep his teammate’s spirits high, while also getting into the head of his opponent.