Typically, this is the happiest week for most students across Orange County because its the culmination of a nine-month-long academic year.

There’s summer vacation just around the corner. Time for beach vacations, sleeping late, no studying and days filled with leisure instead of classes.

At Stanback Middle School, there was extra reason for celebration last week for 14 players and three coaches, who delivered the Orange Person Athletic Conference Baseball Championship to the school.

Any championship is precious. It Stanback’s case, it was truly earned.

“We knew we were going to be good this year,” said Stanback Baseball Coach John Capps. “What we didn’t anticipate was how good the rest of the league was going to be this year. It was a super competitive league. We had to fight hard.”

The Bulldogs had to win three games over a span of three days to secure the OPAC Championship. Going into the final week of the season, Stanback was in a dual with Southern Middle School in Roxboro for the OPAC Northern Division crown. Whoever came out on top would face Culbreth, champions the OPAC Southern Division, in the conference championship game.

Southern was the only team to beat the Bulldogs this regular season. Not only that, but the Panthers were undefeated going into its showdown with Stanback on May 10.

The Bulldogs came out on top of the Panthers 7-2 to force a one-game playoff the following day. In what was essentially the OPAC Northern Division title game, Stanback won 6-5 in Hillsborough.

After Southern charged out to a 2-0 lead going into the bottom-of-the-second inning, the Bulldogs scored five runs. Dominic Sena led off the frame after getting hit by a pitch, then stole second. John Grove and Aiden Ryan followed with run-producing hits. Tripp Beasley laid down a gorgeous bunt with two-out that kept the inning alive.

Caden Thompson stole home for what turned out to be the game-winning run.

The win over the Panthers meant the Bulldogs would host the OPAC title game against Culbreth.

In a season where the Bulldogs’ built its pitching depth, 6th grader Jesus Velazquez earned the win in the championship game. Replacing starter Caden Thompson in the fourth inning with the game even 1-1, Velazquez threw four perfect innings, retiring all 12 Cougars he faced, striking out four of them. He even caught the championship-clinching out on a pop-up back to the mound.

For the final week of the season, basically three consecutive elimination games, Velazquez threw nine innings of no-hit ball. He finished 7-0, winning every start and tying the school record for victories in a season.

“We knew Jesus was going to pitch for us,” Capps said. “We had no idea how valuable he would be. He really stepped up in the championship game. Many players come up to middle school knowing how to throw, but not many know how to pitch. Jesus knows how to pitch.”

After Culbreth scored first in the opening inning, Stanback’s Grant Kennedy even the game with a solo homer in the bottom of the frame. Kennedy led Stanback with three home runs this season.

It remained 1-1 until the sixth, when Ian McGuffey led off with a single. Kennedy followed with a ground rule double. With one out, Armando Sanchez grounded a ball to second base, where the Cougars tried to throw out McGuffey at the plate. But McGuffey slid in safely and the Bulldogs had its first lead of the day.

It was McGuffey’s 20th run of the season, tying a school-record. McGuffey comprises one-half of an all-McGuffey middle infield. Ian plays second base and usually leads off. His twin brother, Grant, bats second and is the shortstop.

“They really set the table for us,” Capps said.

The lead would grow from there. John Grove lined a single to left field to bring in Kennedy and increase the Bulldogs’ lead to 3-1. At this point, Gavin Stone entered the game to pinch-run for Sanchez. Ryan belted a single up the middle to score Stone.

Thompson would end a four-run sixth inning with an infield single. Grove, who stole third earlier, touched the plate for the game’s final run.

“Caden is a competitor,” Capps said. “He came into this year not have thrown many innings at all. He was a work in progress, but he did a great job.”

Stanback finished 13-1, ending the season with ten consecutive wins. They outscored opponents 139-59.

This was a championship team that didn’t exactly subscribe to the Moneyball philosophy of drawing walks and never stealing. The Bulldogs hit .351 and set a school-record with 88 stolen bases.

“When the guys got on base, they just ran,” Capps said. “They were so aggressive. I would give them signs, but they knew exactly when to go. They literally ran away with it.”

Capps was also quick to honor assistants Joe Sharp and Greg Monschein.

“Those guys were my rocks,” Capps said. “Greg’s work with our pitchers and Joe’s robotic arm throwing batting practice nearly every day – not to mention their invaluable insight – made our team that much stronger and made my job that much easier.”

Josh Scism, Parker Schultz, Brody Tapper and Elijah Johnson all played vital roles in securing the Bulldogs OPAC Championship.

“Overall it was an incredibly memorable season, and one I won’t forget,” Capps said. “These boys are such great young men and I look forward to following their progress as they move up through the high school ranks. They are fun to teach, too. My job was just not to screw it up.”

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