Times Two: After another title, Faith's Mills enjoying the moment

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Faith Christian School's Sam Mills is the 2018 Telegram All-Area Baseball Batter of the Year.


Sports Writer

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The title-winning feeling for Sam Mills, who was on the mound for the last out of Faith Christian’s 2018 baseball season, still hasn’t fully set in yet. That won’t happen until the fall, he said, when championship rings are doled out to the team who toppled Greensboro Caldwell Academy this past spring for a second straight state championship.

He knows the feeling hasn’t set in yet, because he’s experienced all of this before.

Indeed, Mills and the rest of the Faith Christian baseball players on varsity the last two seasons will have quite the display of high school glory day items whenever the ride ends.

And Mills, now a two-time NCISAA 2-A state champion, has been the pitcher of record for the final out of both of them.

But it was his hitting that took the major jump this season for the Patriots, and for his efforts at the plate, he can add another accolade to his name: He’s the Telegram’s 2018 Baseball Hitter of the Year.

Already a big part of the team’s success as a sophomore, this past junior campaign saw his average jump from somewhere in the .300s a year ago all the way up to .500, or 38-for-76.

He was an eyesore for opposing pitchers all spring long, a formality of a statement when you consider that a .500 batting average means a hit once out of every two plate appearances.

So, where should the credit be aimed? A couple of different directions, said Mills. For one, a first-year football program rolled in this past fall, which came with an emphasis on weightlifting, which helped with Mills’ strength at the plate.

Then, there was the quick-but-poignant talk that coach Greg Clifton, now Wesleyan’s head coach after winning the school’s only two state titles, gave Mills before a new season without many of the captain-like role players from 2017.

“He was pounding me with the whole leadership role. He just said, ‘Someone’s got to do something,’” said Mills, appreciating now what that meant to him. “It was one big conversation, but he kept stressing it into me throughout the season.”

Even so, around midseason, Faith Christian was only 8-5. They’d lose only twice more, eventually finishing at 20-7.

Leading up to the title game, a three-game series was set for a neutral field in Charlotte. Then it rained, and was rescheduled for Raleigh. Then, after a few innings in the now one-game series, it rained again in the third inning, and the rest of it was pushed to Faith Christian’s field, a well-groomed diamond under the watch of Clifton.

“We must have had 20-25 people working on the field. Parents included,” Mills said. “It was insane, trying to get that field ready.”

Alas, they did. And Mills entered in the final frame, pitched around some trouble, and, with an assist from his catcher on the final play, was a champion again.

“We had a lot of pitchers on deck. I just remember sitting in the dugout, thinking, ‘if I close another state championship, that’s going to be sweet.”

And in the end, he did, helping finalize a wonderful era of spring sports for the school, previously with an empty display case where two seasons worth of hardware now sit.

The ultimate goal, said Mills, with still one season left, is a three-peat — and why wouldn’t it be? — but the rising senior still understands how special it is to leave high school at least a two-time champion, especially when his older brother, a fine player with the Patriots now at Wesleyan with Clifton, never reached such a plateau.

“I had a brother come through Faith. He was an unbelievable player. He never won a state championship,” Mills said. “I feel guilty having two. I see him every day, I wish he could experience what I did.”

And if he ends up getting a third one next year?

“I might let him wear it around.”

Best of the rest

Silas Gonzalez, Sr., Northern Nash — The Air Force commit was a bright spot for the Knights, finishing off a notable career with a .407 average. He also drew 17 walks.

Chase Minshew, Sr., Nash Central — Also a wonderful defensive catcher, Minshew was no slouch at the plate, hitting .424 with 16 RBI.

Colby Carter, Sr., Nash Central — Coach Willie Langley called him the best hitter in the school’s history. He finished with a .584 on-base percentage and a .463 average.

Will Stewart, Jr., Rocky Mount Academy — With a .377 average, Stewart was a big piece of an RMA team that came a game short of a title appearance.

Colton Cruz, Sr., Southern Nash —- Cruz led a solid Firebird lineup with 31 hits, and finished the season with a .408 average.

Jason Montague, Jr., Southern Nash — In front of Cruz was Montague, who amassed a .420 batting average.

Cody Fuller, Sr., SouthWest Edgecombe — An impressive 36 hits for the senior Cougar led to a team-high .456 average.