Digging his cleats into the mound, junior Ryan Anderson looked around at his teammates. He noticed that all their eyes were on him. Turning back to his catcher, Anderson realized the pressure was on him because he had a chance for the record books.
“It was nerve-racking, but I just reminded myself I needed one more out and my defense would have my back,” Anderson said.
Anderson struck out the batter, capping off a no-hitter and a 13-0 win over county rival Hendersonville. Anderson’s teammates mobbed him with congratulations, a moment Anderson said he will remember forever.
“This was one of the best baseball moments of my life,” Anderson said. “All the congratulations were great, and it was amazing to do it on a stage like that.”
Anderson was not the only Falcon on the field that night to throw a no-hitter for the school. Forty-nine years ago, the Falcon’s pitching coach, Dick Cunningham, threw the first no-hitter on the historic field in a game against Edneyville. Presented with two baseballs after the game to commemorate his accomplishment, Anderson gave one to his long time coach and mentor.
“The next day he presented me with one of the baseballs. How cool could that be?” Cunningham said. “It was fantastic that he would even think of that. Something about ‘Wormy’ (Anderson’s nickname) here, we have just been really tight.”
The bond between Cunningham and Anderson has been a close one ever since Anderson’s freshman year.
Cunningham recently announced that this season will be his last after 53 years with the team in one capacity or another.
Anderson believes his moment was the perfect way to start off his coach’s final season.
“Everyone knows Coach and I have had a bond together since freshman year,” Anderson said, “so for him to throw the first one and me to throw the first one of his last season was a very fitting thing.”
Cunningham’s impact on the team has been long lasting since he first joined the team as a high school player. Between never missing a home football game for 25 years as part of the chain crew to volunteering with the baseball team, Cunningham has always helped out at his alma mater.
Cunningham was first asked by former West baseball coach Jim Hyatt to take over the pitching staff, but Cunningham had to refuse because he could not be with the team every afternoon because of his job. However, once the plant that Cunningham worked at shut down, he received another call from Hyatt.
“He told me, “OK, it’s time to go to work. I got your uniform ready,’ and now I’ve been down there ever since,” Cunningham said. “I went to West, my wife went to West, my daughter was at West, my son was at West, — we bleed West Henderson blue. Why would you want to be anywhere else? This is the place to be.”
Through 53 years of playing and coaching, Cunningham has been a mentor to many of the players. He prides himself on always instilling the values of a storied baseball program.
Senior Will Lindsey, who has been a part of the program from a young age, has always enjoyed the stories and moments spent with Cunningham and appreciates his impact.
“I always looked forward to coming to West and getting to spend time with him. Since I was a pitcher, it made everything more fun,” Lindsey said. “He would always talk to me, and it is stuff you never want to take for granted. “Shoot straight” is something he always told me, and when I am on the mound and I am starting to lose it, I just remember, ‘Shoot straight.’”
The baseball team started the season strong winning five of their first six games. The team is currently 10-7 on the season, 4-6 in conference play.
Behind the play of a strong pitching staff led by Anderson and Lindsey, the team is looking to rebound from recent struggles.
Senior Jackson Whiting believes the teams late season success could translate to a playoff run for the Falcons.
“I think some big games at the end of the season gave us us a chance to plat a little off-season baseball,” Whiting said. “We are going in with some momentum and some frsh arms. I believe we have the chance to win some big baseball games this postseason.”
Despite his long career with the team and his numerous accolades, Cunningham does not want all the attention to be about him, but rather the players he coaches.
“This isn’t about me. This is about them. I could tell you stories all day, but they have already heard them,” Cunningham said. “It’s always been about the kids, not about me.”
Cunningham is not completely done with the team as he says he has renegotiated his contract so that he can still mow the field as long as his health permits. He said he believes it is time to pass on his coaching position to a younger coach.
“Mentally, I still think I’ve got it. A lot of people might argue that point, but physically I just can’t do it,” Cunningham said. “It’s time to pass it on someone younger and smarter.”
With the season coming to an end soon, Anderson has made it his goal to play for Cunningham and honor him. Anderson believes the final game of the season will be a hard one as he watches his mentor go, but not before he thanks him.
“Words can’t describe everything he has done for me. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for Coach Cunningham,” Anderson said. “Every single day he has something to make me laugh or cheer me up. I appreciate everything he has taught me — like be kind, be a hard worker. I look up to him, and I just take after him so much. That final moment will be bittersweet, but I love him, and I always will.”
By: Josh Conner