Being programmed to expect high level of success in county sports

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The 56th Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament only has two full days of angling left, but no matter what happens, it will likely pale in comparison to the way this year’s competition began.


Fishing activity on Monday started with word that Eye Catcher had reeled in a pretty sizable blue marlin and would make landfall shortly after noon.


Like clockwork, the crowd began to gather as the final minutes before noon wound down. The buzz pf the crowd became a full roar when the Eye Catcher finally rounded the corner of the Morehead City port and into view.


At that point, the Eye Catcher’s entrance rivaled the red carpet displays at the Academy Awards. The boat glided silently and painfully slow toward the weigh station as the crowd raised their cameras and cell phones in hopes of capturing the exciting moment.


When the weighmasters were finished measuring the fish and inspecting for any foul play, George Lott and Keith McCoy hoisted the 606.9-pound marlin for all to see.


The sight of the fish was met with a deafening roar from the crowd. Children and adults alike stared with
wonder at the monstrous fish. It was the first blue marlin weighing over 600 pounds in three years, and boy was it beautiful.


The cobalt blue top contrasted with the white underbelly, and the distinct dorsal, paired with the sword-like bill was a grand sight.


For me, the experience was tremendously memorable. I’ve never attended a Big Rock viewing before, and I had never seen an actual blue marlin before that one. In fact, the only visual of a blue marlin I have ever had was of the glass-encased grander at the Morehead City Visitor’s Center.


I was always a doubter as a kid, and it only got worse when I got older, so I never really believed that replica was accurate. Blue marlins certainly couldn’t grow to be quite that big.


Oh yes they can.


Six hours after Eye Catcher wowed the Big Rock crowd with its catch, Capt. Casey Wagner of the Inspiration produced a true monster.


Whispers of the mammoth spread around the tournament regulars for the six hours preceding Inspiration’s arrival. The word was Wagner had reeled in a 129-inch fish, and that it wasn’t even able to fit comfortably inside the deck of the boat.


Indeed, when the Inspiration finally showed up, the marlin’s massive forked tail could be seen sticking out from the back of the boat through the tuna door. Even then, the crowd knew the fish was something special.


Underestimated predictions were thrown around in the first minutes of seeing the fish, but everyone was blown away when weighmaster Randy Gregory announced the weight: 754.3 pounds.


Wagner had reeled in the tournament’s third biggest fish in history on just the first day of competition. Unfortunately, neither the Inspiration nor the Eye Catcher were entered in all levels of competition and were not eligible for the $306,000 prize awarded to the first marlin weighing over 500 pounds. That prize is still up for grabs, giving all anglers a great reason to keep fishing.


There were three marlins weighed on Monday, with the last being the Carnivore’s 410.7-pound fish sandwiched between the Eye Catcher and the Inspiration.


As a Big Rock rookie, the flurry of action on Monday was the absolute craziest way to start my experience with the tournament.


Rather than get the chance to acclimate myself slowly to the rhythm of the tournament, I was thrown into a fire of one of the most exciting Big Rock opening days ever.


But then again, that’s been the theme of my six-month employment so far.


In fact, as a newspaper rookie in general, I have been extremely blessed to see a number of big moments already.


I started working in December when basketball season was just about in full swing. The three county schools, West Carteret, East Carteret and Croatan, all fielded quality teams, but obviously East had a prolific year. For the first time in school history, the Mariners reached the 1A boys basketball state championship game. The team ended up losing 72-71 in a heartbreaker to Winston-Salem Prep, but it was incredible to see a few local boys make a run at an actual state championship.


Across the county, West Carteret also broke new ground with the first home playoff game and the first playoff win under long-time coach Craig McClanahan.


There were other big moments in county winter sports, such as Croatan’s Grant Hall claiming a wrestling state championship in the 113-pound weight division, but the moments that impacted me the most were the ones I got to see in person.


That brings me to the spring sports season where I got to see a number of teams reach new milestones.


I got to see East baseball reach the third round of the 1A state playoffs for the first time in school history, I saw the West softball earn its first second-round berth in the 3A state playoffs (during the fast-pitch era) in school history, and I got to see the Croatan girls soccer team win its 2A conference for only the second time in program history.


The real coup d’etat was getting the chance to travel to my very first away game and then see the East Carteret girls soccer team earn a spot in the 1A state championship game after beating Whiteville 4-2 following a two-hour thunderstorm delay.


Lucky for me, my boss trusted me to cover the state championship game, and I got to make the trip to N.C. State the following Saturday, May 31, and witness the first state championship game by a county girls soccer team ever.


East lost 2-1 in a shootout, but in my mind, that game will always be a tie. The Mariners pushed an undefeated Community School of Davidson (18-0) team to two 10-minute overtime periods, two five-minute sudden death periods and ultimately a shootout.


East came out on the wrong end of the penalty kick showcase, but I still find it difficult to acknowledge that ending.


The Mariners played like a team that belonged in a championship game. I’ll never forget that. Officially they lost, but it took a shootout to shake those down east girls.


A little over a week after that championship game, I was on the Big Rock beat and ready for what was to come. Or at least I thought I was.


These first six months have spoiled me. They have programmed me to expect a high level of success. Thankfully I live in a county where new promising young athletes crop up every year. I hope I never have to change my expectations and alter my perspective. This is way too much fun.


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