When Mount Holly-Paw Creek and Kings Mountain met in 1959 Area 4 Legion final, it was historic for both teams
By Richard Walker
Mount Holly American Legion Post 152 hasn’t been involved in the sponsorship of a baseball team since 1971. Kings Mountain Post 155 decided to combine forces with Shelby Post 82 to form a Cleveland County post two summers ago.
But in the summer of 1959, arguably the best teams Mount Holly and Kings Mountain ever sponsored met in a memorable North Carolina Area IV championship series.
Mount Holly was in the fifth year of what became a 15-year co-sponsorship of teams with Paw Creek Post 353 and drew its players from West Mecklenburg High and the old Mount Holly, Rock Springs and Stanley high schools. The team had won at least one playoff series in each of the four previous seasons and former major leaguer Ken Wood was in the third year of his five-year head coaching tenure in 1959.
Kings Mountain had never won a playoff series before 1959 and wasn’t even sure it would sponsor a team that summer.
But after the decision to made to field a team was official, former Gastonia Post 23 championship player Fred Withers was hired as coach and his roster slowly but surely began to take shape.
Post 155 drew its players from Kings Mountain High School and old Bethware High School and a fraction of players from Bessemer City High School.
Once Bessemer City had won its N.C. 1A state title – and it had beaten Bethware in an early playoff game – Kings Mountain shook off a 0-3 start and eventually shared League A regular season honors with Mount Holly-Paw Creek. It’s the first of only two regular season titles ever won by Post 155; The other came in 1992, which also was the only other year Post 155 advanced to the area finals.
Game stories on the area championship in The Charlotte Observer were written by then-sports reporter Emil Parker. A Belmont native, Parker would eventually spend 31 years as sports information director at Davidson College, where he is a 2001 inductee in that school’s Hall of Fame.
The Gastonia Gazette used a young part-timer to cover the decisive fifth game who would go on to worldwide prominence as a NASCAR promoter. Also a Belmont native, Howard A. “Humpy” Wheeler, Jr., was then a journalism student at the University of South Carolina where he played for the Gamecocks football team. A race driver himself, Wheeler eventually got into auto racing promotion and was the longtime president of Charlotte Motor Speedway (now Lowe’s Motor Speedway) and has been inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2006) and Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (2009).
The series was marked by standout pitching and played at Mount Holly’s Costner Field and Kings Mountain’s old City Stadium. More than 1,000 fans attended each of the five contests, including 1,575 in the finale in Mount Holly. Kings Mountain won the first and fourth games, with Mount Holly-Paw Creek taking games two, three and the decisive fifth game.
Kings Mountain’s Bobby Biddix and Jerry Wright picked up the pitching wins for Post 155 with Wright throwing a four-hit shutout to force the finale. And Jimmy Cline and Gene Stowe picked up Mount Holly-Paw Creek’s wins – Cline with a game two one-hitter and Stowe with four-hitters in the third and fifth games.
The fifth game also was marked by a 14-hit offense from Mount Holly-Paw Creek led by three hits apiece from center fielder Jimmy Pittman, first baseman Carlton Rushing, shortstop Bobby Pittman and left fielder Mack Lingerfelt. Other standouts for Mount Holly-Paw Creek were catcher Wayne Bolick, second baseman Bobby Herms and pitcher Bob Kirksey.
Kings Mountain was led by Biddix (10-6 record) and Wright (8-3) on the mound and Jerry Morris (.395 average), Biddix (.321) and Don Horn (.276) at the plate.
Mount Holly-Paw Creek would go on to lose a seven-game series to Kannapolis in a series that drew more than 10,000 fans, including 3,275 for the decisive seventh game in Mount Holly.
After failing to sponsor teams in 1964 and 1965, Mount Holly-Paw Creek was shifted to Area III from 1966 to 1969. Once it returned to Area IV in 1970 and 1971, Paw Creek Post 353 became the sole sponsor from 1972 until it stopped fielding teams in 2002.
Paw Creek would go on to win Area IV titles in 1975 and 1984, the latter being the last Mecklenburg County team to ever win a N.C. area baseball championship.
Post 353, which had future major leaguer Tommy Helms play on its 1958 team, also produced four more major leaguers in Bobby Thompson (Paw Creek in 1971), Dickie Noles (1974), Ray Durham (1988-90) and Chad Tracy (1996-98).
Mount Holly and Stanley players now attend East Gaston and Stuart Cramer high schools and now play for the Gaston Braves Post 144-266 team and Rock Springs players now attend East Lincoln High and play for the Lincoln Cardinals Post 455 team.
Kings Mountain has sponsored teams since 1936 until combining with Shelby to form Cleveland County Post 82-155 in 2019.
The 1992 team was its winningest – 21-12 record – and it also advanced to the Area IV finals before losing to Taylorsville four games to one. That team was coached by two-time Kings Mountain high school baseball state championship coach Bruce Clark. Clark’s 59-47 Legion head coaching record in the best in Post 155 history. And he and Withers’ 18-11 mark in 1959 are two of only four head coaches in post history with winning records.
In 1996, Post 155 took its last playoff victory; Kings Mountain has lost an area-record 15 straight opening round series since then and had an all-time record of 440-902 when the 2018 season ended.