With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, Dunbar High School's baseball team was 4-7 and its playoff hopes seemed virtually doused. The Tide had only one consistent pitcher, couldn't hit and, to make matters worse, was having morale problems.
"We were really struggling then," said third-year Coach James Conway. "We talked to the players, tried to motivate them and keep their heads up, but something was missing. We even had to eventually put a few guys off (the team). Suddenly, things started to click."
No one can say exactly what woke up Dunbar. According to team leader Antoine Paige, his teammates just decided to go out and play.
"We felt we could beat all the remaining teams on our schedule if we played together," said Paige, a pitcher/outfielder. "If we did that, we could make the playoffs."
The Tide not only made the playoffs but, for the first time in more than a dozen years, reached the championship game of the Interhigh League tournament.
Dunbar originally was awarded a 9-0 championship forfeit victory over H.D. Woodson. The Warriors, with graduation exercises scheduled on the same day as the game, opted for the long-awaited walk down the aisle and didn't make the game.
The following afternoon, Dr. Andrew Jenkins, the Deputy Superintendent of the D.C. Public Schools, overruled Director of Athletics Otto Jordan to declare a forfeit and ordered the game to be played. The teams were scheduled to play yesterday.
Conway and his players were not happy at the way they had been given the title and were pleased the game was rescheduled.
"This only made our league look bad and we didn't want to win a title by a forfeit," Conway said. "Both teams worked hard to get here and they should play the game. My guys knew they had to win virtually every game to get in (the playoffs). And they did."
With Paige and Lou Brown handling the pitching, as well as coming up with key hits, Dunbar won three of its four remaining games, all within seven days, to finish third in the West Division and qualify.
In a quarterfinal playoff game last week, the suddenly confident Tide got more outstanding pitching from Paige and defeated Ballou, 5-1.
The next afternoon, the Tide pulled off the upset of the season when it held on to eliminate West Division regular season winner Coolidge, 4-3. Brown allowed six hits and had two key hits in the victory. Dunbar also benefited from mental mistakes by the usually poised Colts (15-2) to earn a berth in the title game.
"It wasn't luck at all," Brown said. "We lost a few games by a run or two because we made some mistakes. We don't make those mistakes and we could easily have won 13 or 14 games. I'm not surprised we made the championship game."
Dunbar isn't a power-hitting team by any means, but usually beats out infield hits, steals bases and tries all kinds of strategy.
"We like to steal and will go at any time," said sophomore Corey Williams, who was tagged out at home on an attempted steal against Ballou. "If we get that extra base, that makes it easier for someone to drive a man home."
"We just kept on them and finally things started to go right for us," said assistant Thomas Revelle. "We wouldn't let them quit. We started to hit better and Paige and Brown did a good job pitching for us. Lenny Jones was doing the job at catcher and some of our younger guys started to come through."