Decades after state championship, players remember closeness of that special year
Some schools are blessed with state championship after state championship, with trophies piling on top of each other and each championship becoming more mundane than the last.
But for Halifax County High School there have only been two team state championships in school history, the 1991 football team and the 1984 baseball team.
This is the story of the 1984 Halifax County High School baseball team.
The team that went 18-4, won the regular season district title and then went on to run through the regional and state tournaments with tremendous pitching and even better hitting to capture the schools first team state title in history.
Part one focuses on the regular season of that state championship team. From preseason expectations, to the last regular season game, The Gazette recaps each game and how those games prepared that team for a historic run. Several players from that team spoke about that season and how they remember it back then and what it means to them today.
Season statistics, schedules and results, along with the full roster of players will be included in this series as well as an online gallery of photos compiled from the archives at The Gazette-Virginian.
The first sentence of The Gazette-Virginian’s season preview for the 1984 baseball season sums up the entire history of baseball in Halifax County.
“Baseball and winning have become synonymous at Halifax County Senior High School, and coach Frosty Owens has no intention of changing that,” Hugh Moore, The Gazette’s sports writer wrote. Everyone knows that baseball is king in Halifax County; it has been for as long as anyone can remember. Ask anyone around the entire state and they will all tell you the same thing, that Halifax baseball is dominate year after year not only at the high school level, but at every level of organized baseball.
When the Comets got ready for the 1984 season, they had won the Western District Championship for four years in a row and had been to the state tournament four out of the last five years, making it to the state title game in 1981. The 1984 Halifax baseball team had potential coming into the regular season. They had the talent, they had the pitching, and they had the offensive power, but the questioned remained whether they would be able to compete for a state title.
There were four seniors listed on the preseason roster, with only two getting significant playing time during the season, Crook Robertson and Kelvin Davis. Both Robertson and Davis would play big roles throughout the season, but the underclassmen would fill the Comets lineup and their youth would leave others wondering if they had what it took.
There were 10 sophomores and six juniors on the roster in addition to the four seniors, to round out the 20-man roster. Twenty players may seem like a lot these days, but in 1984 they had close to 100 boys come out to try and make either the JV or varsity roster for the Comets. So with 40 players making the two teams, there were still 60 people that didn’t make the cut for the team.
Heading into opening day, the Comets were loaded with pitching. Moore wrote a preseason article highlighting Halifax’s versatility on the mound, highlighting the eight players that Owens would rely on. Those pitchers were Len Wentz, Eddie Poole, Jackie Crockett, Curtis Duffer, Grayson Throckmorton, Greg Medley, Keith Lee and Chris Cole. Duffer and Cole would see a lot of action on the mound, with Wentz and the others coming in and doing their part as well to help the Comets along the way. “We could see that we had really strong pitching and that’s what it takes to win in high school baseball,” Throckmorton said.
With the pitching there, the offense and defense would also come, especially the offense. Halifax hit 25 homeruns and hit an astounding .322 as a team for the season. This includes all postseason games as well. To hit over .300 as a team is impressive, especially through 22 games.
Halifax only scored less than seven runs in a game only twice. The Comets scored 224 runs in 22 games, which gave them a 10.18 average. You will not be able to find many baseball teams that averaged double-digit runs throughout a season.
There were seven underclassmen in the starting lineup on opening day, and for Lee he felt that the youth on that team played a big factor in their run to the state championship. “We had a lot of energy, youth and sometimes youth betters the fear that one might have when you face some of the other challenges. I think because we were youthful and young we didn’t really realize any fear at that point,” Lee said.
“We felt like we were as good as any team assembled just because that’s all we did, basically this team was very close as a group. Most of the time if you saw one, you saw five or six or more of us around wherever we were. There was never any animosity towards each other ever. The main thing was about winning, and we were fortunate enough to be able to do that a lot.” Cole said. That closeness was one of the many things that the players on that team talked about a lot.
Throckmorton realized from day one, that their team had the potential to be special. “We started the year and the expectation coming through at that time, and we knew we had a group of guys that if we gelled together and played hard together we had a chance to do really well,” he said.
The season officially began on Friday, March 16, 1984, when Halifax defeated Dan River 13-3. They took on Dan River again the next week on March 23 when they defeated the Wildcats again 15-0 to start the season 2-0.
On March 27, the Comets traveled to Person County to take on their rivals across the North Carolina border. Person only had three hits in the game, but they were still able to score four runs and take the win over Halifax 4-2. Halifax threatened in the late innings, but were unable to get any runs across to try and tie or take the lead. It was the Comets first loss of the season, and they headed into Western District play with a 2-1 record overall.
On March 30, Halifax opened Western District play with an 8-2 win over Heritage High School. Lee had three RBI’s in the game, and Duffer added two for the Comets. Duffer also got the win on the mound for Halifax.
Tuesday, April 3 Person County came to Halifax to take on the Comets. The game took place in the middle of the school day, and the student body at Halifax was encouraged to come to the game. Unfortunately Person won the game 9-7 and swept the season series. Cole remembered this game very well because he said that it was his only loss in his high school career, and it was in front of the entire student body.
Davis had three hits and four RBI’s for Halifax in the loss with a single, double and home run.
Halifax’s next game was a big one for the Comets, as they traveled to Amherst to take on the preseason favorite in the Western District. Amherst had great pitching and they were a veteran team, and all of the Halifax players knew that Amherst was the team to beat that season.
“We thought that Amherst really would be the favorite to win the district and also the state championship mainly because they had the pitching and the depth to do so,” Lee said.
The first of two regular season matchups went to Halifax, as they beat Amherst 13-8. Duffer lead the offensive burst for the Comets with two home runs, including a grand slam. Waller also hit a home run in the game. Duffer started the game for Halifax on the mound, and Cole came in to finish it.
On Friday, April 13 Halifax defeated GW 7-2 to improve to 3-0 in the district. Crockett pitched the first five innings, only giving up one hit and retiring 13 out of the 14 batters he faced. But Crockett injured his hamstring in the game and would be out for the next few games.
Waller continued his hot streak, going 3-4 on the day. Waller was hitting .560 in the first seven games of the year scoring 15 runs for his team.
The next Friday Halifax took on Albemarle in a double header, and cruised to 5-0 in the Western District with 15-1 and 16-0 wins. It was a breakout day for the offense as they scored 31 runs on 34 hits with 11 different players getting hits in the two games. Duffer was 6-9 with eight RBI’s in the two games, and Lee was 4-6 scoring five runs.
Duffer and Wentz pitched the first game of the doubleheader, and Cole went the distance in the second game for Halifax.
As the district schedule ramped up, it was the focus of the Halifax team to win the regular season crown. In 1984 it was the one year out of every three that the Western District got two berths into the Northwest Regional Tournament, and the first berth goes to the team that finished first in the regular season standings. With the Comets starting 5-0, they were solely focused on getting that berth wrapped up before the regular season even ended.
“Going into that season we knew that if we did what we were supposed to do we would be district champions. That was the first thing we needed to do was be district champions,” Throckmorton said.
Halifax faced Heritage next in their second matchup of the season, and the Comets won 7-1. Crockett, back from injury, hit a pinch-hit three run home run. Davis also hit a home run in the game, and with the Comets scoring three runs in the first inning, Duffer and Cole had all the run support they would need. They combined for a four hitter, and the only run they allowed was unearned.
The first blemish on Halifax’s perfect district record came in the first game of a doubleheader against Charlottesville. The Comets not only lost the first game of the day 3-0, but they were no hit by a left-handed knuckleball pitcher. Cole said that he remembered that game because him and his teammates were never able to figure out how to hit the knuckleball. He said that they would get under balls and could never get solid contact on the ball.
There were opportunities for the Comets to get runs across, because the pitcher from Charlottesville walked six batters and hit another in the game, but it just wasn’t their game.
The Comets got revenge in the second game of the doubleheader, defeating Charlottesville 8-5. Waller and Davis both had two hits in the game, and Waller had three runs batted in to help give Halifax the win.
Even with the loss, the Comets still held a one game lead in the Western District and they now sat at 7-1. The team that sat one game back of Halifax was Amherst, and the next game on the schedule was a rematch with Amherst.
Halifax defeated Amherst for the second time in the season by a score of 9-6. Lee was 4-4 with three singles and a double in the game, scoring three runs and driving in one. Duffer got his fourth win in his last five outings on the mound as he pitched all but the last out of the game when coach Owens brought in Cole to get the last out when Amherst was threatening.
This was a big win for the Comets as they separated themselves from Amherst in the standings by two games. With Charlottesville still lurking only a game behind, if Halifax could hold on and win the rest of their district games, they would be the regular season champions.
Halifax defeated E.C. Glass on May 4 by a score of 18-7 to improve to 9-1 in the district. Glass was one of the worst teams in the district that season, but they put up a fight against Halifax. Moore said in his recap of this game that Glass had a junk ball pitcher similar to the one that the Comets faced against Charlottesville. The game was tied 3-3 heading into the fifth inning, but Halifax exploded for six runs in the fifth inning, four in the sixth and five in the seventh to run away with the game.
Duffer was 3-4 with four RBI’s; Robbie Carmichael had a single, double and four runs batted in. Crockett made his return to the mound after injury and illness had kept him out of the lineup for a while. Crockett pitched 2 1/3 innings, giving up one hit and not allowing a run.
The Comets faced GW on May 8 and a win would give Halifax at least a share of the Western District regular season title. Duffer hit a three run home run in the game and pitched a five hitter for his team in the Comets 9-4 win.
Two days later Halifax clinched the regular season championship with an 11-4 win over E.C. Glass in the regular season finale. Davis had a grand slam in the game and two more hits that gave him six RBI’s on the day. Cole pitched four innings, striking out six and only allowing two hits. He got the win and exited with a 10-0 lead.
Halifax finished the regular season with a 13-3 record and 11-1 in the Western District.
The regular season champions also were the host team for the Western District Tournament. The tournament was set up much different than it is today; with the top four teams in the district all playing on the same day at the same location, with three games taking place to determine the tournament champion.
Halifax as the one seed was set to take on GW who earned the fourth seed. Charlottesville was the two seed, and they would take on Amherst who was the three seed. The winners of the first two games faced off in the championship game later that afternoon.
Those games, plus the rest of the playoff run for Halifax will be in the second part of our three part series on the historic 1984 season.
Duffer finished the regular season leading the team in average, hitting an eye popping .438. Duffer also led the team with 30 RBI’s as well as in homeruns with five.
Waller led the Comets with 22 hits on the season and in runs scored with 26. He also led the team with 11 stolen bases and was tied with Lee and Duffer in doubles with five. Waller also had a stat that was worth mentioning, he only struck out one time in the entire regular season.
Lee was second on the team with 21 runs scored and tied for first with five doubles. 17 of the 19 players on the team recorded at least one hit in the regular season.
The Comets hit .318 as a team in the regular season, compiling 150 hits in 471 at bats, scoring 9.88 runs a game.
Duffer and Cole both compiled 5-1 records on the mound for Halifax, Cole appeared in 11 games and Duffer 9. Duffer had 57 strikeouts and Cole 41 for the regular season.
Moore wrote in his Sportslants column shortly after the regular season ended that “Baseball players at Halifax County Senior High School are used to winning. They have been brought up in that tradition, and it seems to bring out the best in them rather than put too much pressure on them. The current crops of seniors were seventh graders when the championship streak started and the juniors, who comprise much of the team’s strength, were still playing Dixie Youth ball.”
With the first obstacle out of the way, and a regular season championship that guaranteed the Comets a spot in the Northwest Regional Tournament, Halifax prepared for the postseason and a run to the state championship that is still remembered 36 years later.
1984 Comets championship cemented spot in history books
The Halifax County High School baseball team had already secured a spot in the Northwest Regional Tournament by winning the Western District regular season championship, but before the regional tournament began, the Comets hosted the Western District Tournament.
The three tournament games took place in one day, with Halifax taking on GW at 10 a.m. in the first game of the day. Charlottesville and Amherst would follow the first game, and the championship game would take place in the late afternoon.
Halifax struggled to get past GW in their semifinal matchup, going down 4-0 to the Eagles in the game. The Comets came back and were down 4-3 in the final inning of play. Halifax was able to score two runs in the final frame to take the 5-4 win and move on to the championship.
In the second semifinal, Amherst beat Charlottesville 2-1 to set up the 4 p.m. championship game against Halifax. The Comets had defeated Amherst twice in the regular season, but Halifax knew how tough the Lancers were, with many people believing that Amherst was the team to beat coming into the season.
The championship game was exciting, with offense all around as the two teams combined to score 23 runs in the game. Kelvin Davis hit a grand slam, and Casey Waller had three hits for the Comets in the championship game.
The Comets were down 12-9 heading into the final at bat, and quickly had two outs against them. With Halifax down to their last out in their last at bat, they mounted a comeback to try and capture the Western District Tournament title.
Waller walked, followed by two more walks by Len Wentz and Keith Lee to load the bases for Halifax. Curtis Duffer stepped to the plate and ripped a shot into the gap in left center field that scored Waller and Wentz. Head coach Frosty Owens never hesitated sending Lee to the plate to try and score the tying run, but two perfect relay throws to the plate would get there in time and Lee was out at the plate, ending the game with Amherst winning the tournament championship 12-11.
Although the Comets would have liked to win the Western District Tournament so they would be able to host a regional game, Halifax was still in the regional tournament via their regular season title, so their focus switched quickly.
Halifax opened up the Northwest Regional Tournament against Northside out of Roanoke. The game took place at Amherst, and it was another slow start for the Comets as the fell behind 6-1. At this point in the playoffs it was win or go home for the teams, so Halifax had to mount a comeback if they wanted to stay in the hunt for the state championship.
“I remember the pitcher from Northside was a left-hander, and they had us down, but we rallied after we got into the middle and late innings. We just didn’t give up, and once we won that game I think that kind of crystalized in our minds that we could go very very far,” Lee said.
Halifax cut the Northside lead to one at 6-5 in the top of the third, but a pitching battle ensued with the score remaining the same all the way until the top of the seventh inning.
In the top of the seventh Lee singled, Davis walked and Jackie Crockett was hit by a pitch to load the bases for the Comets. Chris Cole came to the plate and drew a walk that scored Lee to tie the game. Crook Robertson was up next, and Robertson laid down a bunt to score Davis and give the Comets the 7-6 lead. Robertson had attempted a bunt earlier in the game that resulted in an inning ending double play just two innings prior. Coach Owens obviously believed in Robertson to come through in that situation, and credit to Robertson for shaking off the last at bat to come through for his team.
Cole came in to pitch the bottom of the seventh, and he gave up one hit, but he was able to hold on and get the win for the Comets. With the win, Halifax advanced to the Northwest Regional Championship game to face Potomac.
Potomac was the defending state champion and was the team that knocked Halifax out of the playoffs the previous season. The Comets were looking for payback and a berth in the state tournament.
Halifax exploded offensively against Potomac, compiling 18 hits, seven extra base hits and two home runs en route to a 20-6 win. Crockett started the game for Halifax on the mound, giving up three hits and one run in three innings of work. It was Crockett’s third win in his last five decisions.
The win gave Halifax their fourth state tournament appearance in the last five years, and they were set to meet Lake Braddock in the state semifinals. The game was played in Fairfax, so the Comets and their fans had quite the ride to play the game. The game was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, but a massive storm rolled in and postponed the game. The field was in such bad condition that they were unable to play on Wednesday as well. Halifax was stuck in Fairfax for two extra days, but they were able to use their time to go to the movies as a team, and they also helped get the field ready for the game after the rain. To stay in the swing of things, the Comets were allowed to use facilities close to them to work out and keep loose.
Thursday, May 31, Halifax was finally able to get going against Lake Braddock and rolled to a 13-2 win. The Comets hit four home runs in the game, with Duffer’s grand slam being the biggest. Crockett, Robertson and Davis each hit home runs in the game also. Halifax exploded for nine runs in the fourth inning.
Cole started the game against Lake Braddock, and he pitched five innings, giving up one run and striking out five batters. The lone run by Cole was on a passed ball.
The Comets were now set to take on the perennial powerhouse of J.R. Tucker in the state championship game. Tucker was 22-1 on the season, been in the final four of the state tournament for six of the last eight years and had won four AAA state championships.
Tucker also had former NBA player and current analyst for the NBA on ESPN, Tim Legler playing third base for them, and several other players that were committed to big time universities to play college baseball.
On June 2, 1984, the AAA state championship game took place at Highland Springs High School outside of Richmond.
The Comets reeled off 10 hits and four home runs in the game. Davis hit two long balls in the game, Robertson and Crockett hit the other two for the Comets. Crockett got the start on the mound for Halifax, pitching the first three innings, and then Cole came in to pitch the final four innings. Tucker mounted a slight rally in the last inning, scoring two runs to make the score look closer than it was, but Halifax would win the game 7-4 and capture the schools’ first team state championship.
Two players excelled in the state tournament in 1984. Cole pitched 9 1/3 innings in the state tournament, giving up only five hits, and four runs while striking out nine batter. Davis hit .714 in the state tournament, going 5-7 with four runs batted in, scoring six runs and hitting three home runs in two games. Great pitching, combined with great hitting is a recipe for success.
“It all kind of gelled together, and we got hot at the right time, and the rest is history,” Cole said. Grayson Throckmorton put it simply. “It was unbelievable.” No matter how you put it, the Comets had done something that will forever be remembered.
Part three of the three part series will cover the reactions from around the county, as well as the players and their feelings about how the state championship has been a part of their lives.
This quote from The Gazette shortly after the Comets won the title still holds true today. “In one way or another, so many have had a hand in this accomplishment, and all can take pride in it. Pride? We’d burst if we were any prouder, and we know we safely speak for every citizen of Halifax County and South Boston when we say this pride permeates the entire community. These guys are champs, real champs. And not just on the field, but off the field as well. They have conducted themselves as gentleman throughout, during the bad times as well as the good. These Comets of 1984 are true champions, and what they have accomplished will be remembered with fondness for all of time.”