This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Humphrey Bogart's closing line in Casablanca was a fitting opening for the historic meeting Monday at Harlem High School, where the Harlem and Greenbrier baseball teams hooked up for the first time ever.
The Wolfpack drew first blood, taking a 5-3 victory over the Bulldogs in the 2003 season opener for both squads.
"We've all been real excited about this," Greenbrier senior Ben Tankersley said. "It's a great opportunity for these great schools to play each other. We did focus on this as a big game. We wanted to get off to a good start."
Tankersley got off to a very good start, roping a double to the right-field wall in the first inning, then later crossing the plate on a Harlem error for the initial run of the contest. The second baseman led all hitters with a 3 for 4 game, including a clutch RBI single in the fifth.
Greenbrier's Ben Tankersley slams the ball into the outfield for a double in the first inning of play against Harlem.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Greenbrier opened in 1996 and began its inaugural baseball season in 1997, but the Pack and Dogs have avoided each other on the diamond for various reasons.
On Monday the differences were set aside and the players could finally say, "Here's looking at you kid."
"There was a rivalry before we ever played," Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis said. "It's fun playing them."
Plenty of folks wanted in on the fun, as the bleachers were filled with fans anxious to see the show.
"I knew there were going to be a lot of people, but I didn't think there would be that many," Harlem catcher Chase Richardson said. "That was the most people I've seen out here in a long time."
Round up the usual suspects - the capacity crowd featured die-hard Greenbrier and Harlem followers, including former Pack coach Terry Holder, and was sprinkled with alumni from both schools.
Former Greenbrier stars Hampton Rowland and DeWayne Lowe were on hand, and they sported Harlem hats. They are now coaching at Harlem Middle School, but were part of the Pack's three state title teams, so there was no question which side they were rooting for.
Harlem's Jordan Whitaker pitched for Harlem during his team's matchup against Greenbrier. Greenbrier won 5-3.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"I always give them a hard time about that (coaching in Harlem), but I know where their heart is," Pack coach Ed Williams said. "You can take the boys out of Greenbrier, but you can't take Greenbrier out of the boys."
The action had some uneven moments. Harlem committed six errors, which stuck starting pitcher Jordan Whitaker with a hard-luck loss. Greenbrier starter Scott Wandless had a solid outing, but balked in a run in the fourth.
While opening day mistakes are not unexpected, the Pack did everything a little bit better than the Dogs, and that was the difference. Greenbrier played decent defense, and pitchers Wandless and Michael Newman limited Harlem to four hits.
At the plate, the Pack notched nine hits, with three coming from freshmen Rich Poythress (2 for 3 with a double) and Erik Smith.
"You've got to hand it to Ed and his coaching staff. They've got a young ball club, but they played well," Lewis said. "They kicked our livin' tails. That's the bottom line."
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