By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Carson third baseman Connor Bridges will play for Pfeiffer next season, and he’s one step ahead of many athletes making that tough, next-level transition.
He’s already struggled. He’s already been benched. He’s already proved he can handle it and come back strong from it.
“Most college freshmen haven’t dealt with the sort of adversity he faced in high school, so that’s an advantage for Connor,” said Carson assistant Dwayne Fink, who tutors infielders. “Not many freshmen will walk in and start their first day with a college program. That’s not going to discourage Connor. He’s shown everybody he’ll keep working, even in a hard situation.”
An all-star senior year was predicted for Bridges after .300 seasons as a sophomore and junior, but baseball can humble you in a hurry.
Bridges started out slow in brutal weather and was in an 0-for-9 slump when he didn’t see his name on coach Chris Cauble’s lineup card.
NPC champ Carson went 24-4 and had unusual depth, so Cauble had options. John Daugherty’s bat had made it clear he had to be in the lineup somewhere when he didn’t pitch, so he was installed at third base, leaving Bridges as the odd man out.
“Connor wasn’t producing early and John could play third base,” Cauble said. “I know it was tough on a senior to sit down. You just hope he doesn’t go into a shell.”
Bridges didn’t sulk. His practice habits didn’t change.
“He kept doing what we asked him to do,” Fink said. “And it’s a long season. You’ll get another chance.”
Bridges says March 22 was the turning point. Carson hosted West Rowan in a major showdown, and it was painful for Bridges not to start. But when his number was called to pinch hit with the bases loaded, he knocked in three teammates with a loud double.
“I had some sleepless nights, for sure, but you keep working and you try to earn another chance,” Bridges said. “That hit against West was the start. I think that hit brought my confidence back.”
Six days after he came through against West, Bridges delivered another pinch-hit blow against East Rowan.
The Easter tournament at CMC-NorthEast Stadium was next, and with second baseman John Patella missing due to a death in his family, Bridges was in the lineup at second base. Bridges had four hits and scored five runs as the Cougars swept three games, and he was named all-tournament.
Bridges batted .444 in April to reclaim third base, with Daugherty rotating at DH, right field and pitcher. Bridges hit his first varsity homer in a 7-6 win against South Rowan.
“Connor saw good times and he saw tough times, and I was extremely happy with how he responded to the tough ones,” Cauble said. When he got back in the lineup, he made it so we couldn’t take him out.”
Bridges’ father, Baxter, played at Pfeiffer, although that wasn’t the biggest factor in his college choice. Mostly he likes a young coaching staff that includes former East Rowan star Ross Steedley. He was recruited as an infielder and will room with South Rowan outfielder Dylan Goodman, a South Legion teammate.
“Probably I’ll fit best as a second baseman,” Bridges said. “Because I’m not going to be a big home-run hitter.”
Fink says he has the reactions and arm to play third and the soft hands to play second.
“Great hand-to-eye coordination,” Fink said. “He made some athletic plays for us.”