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Who won the area’s first high school state title? A hint: It also produced the area’s first major leaguer

By Richard Walker

When the North Carolina High School Athletic Association began holding state championships in the fall of 1913, local teams were eager to compete for titles.

Which team was the first to win a state championship?

Cherryville High’s baseball program.

Grier “Skipper” Friday pitched six seasons professionally in the 1920s after leading Cherryville High to the area’s first high school state championship.

While Cherryville is recognized to this day as a state baseball power, the 1917 team suffered its share of heartbreak before producing that historic title. It also was led by the county’s first major league player.

Then nicknamed the “Cherries” – the “Ironmen” nickname came about because of football in the 1930s – Cherryville suffered disappointing defeats in the state playoffs in 1915 and 1916 before taking the first of the school’s 10 state championships in 1917. It also was the first of Gaston County’s state record 33 state baseball titles.

Winning the 1917 title took an extraordinary nine-day effort from the county’s first eventual major leaguer Grier “Skipper” Friday.

Friday, who pitched in seven games for the old Washington Senators in 1923, won four straight postseason games – called “elimination games” by the NCHSAA in those days – to lift Cherryville to the 1917 title.

Friday saved his best for last, going 10 innings in a 3-2 victory over East Bend in the May 11 Western championship game and pitching a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts the following day in a 1-0 state championship win over Raleigh. In the finale, Friday also tripled and scored the game’s lone run in the third inning.

Both of those games were played at the University of North Carolina’s Emerson Field in Chapel Hill.

But Friday and his teammates had suffered heartbreaking defeats in the previous two seasons in the playoffs.

In 1915, Sylvan collected 20 hits off Friday and a Cherryville reliever to beat the Cherries 16-10 in the Western championship game. Sylvan had won the first NCHSAA title in 1914 and would win the 1915 title a week later in a 7-6 victory over Raleigh.

In 1916, Friday had won five games in 20 days before losing 1-0 to Clayton in the May 13 state championship game in Chapel Hill.

Cherryville’s 1917 title completed a four-year run with a 43-2 overall record. The 1916 and 1917 teams were coached by Joe Nixon, who was the first superintendent of Cherryville City schools.

It also began a winning tradition that carries on to this day; Cherryville has since won 25 conference regular season titles, six conference tournament titles in addition to the nine other state championships – the 1962 Western N.C. Activities Association title, the 1980, 1982, 1992 and 1993 N.C. 2A titles and the 1998, 2001, 2008 and 2016 N.C. 1A titles.

Friday, who died at 64 on Aug. 25, 1962 in Gastonia, spent six seasons pitching professionally from 1920 to 1925. Friday pitched for the Class C Charlotte Hornets in 1920, the Class C Raleigh Capitals from 1921 to 1923, Class A Nashville, Tenn., in 1923 and 1924, Class C High Point in 1925 and Class B Spartanburg, S.C., in 1925.

Friday’s best season came in 1922 when he went 22-14 for Raleigh in 38 appearances covering 293 innings. For the Senators, he debuted on June 17, 1923 and finished his lone major league season with a 0-1 record and 6.90 ERA in seven appearances (two starts) that covered 30 innings.