By Mike London
LANDIS ó South Rowan’s American Legion team has posted only two winning records in 11 seasons, but this is one of those summers when South has a shot at being more than just competitive.
South, stocked by two full schools (South and Carson) for the first time and strengthened by returning college talent and five additions to the program from West Rowan, is a solid, experienced team on paper.
The team starts tonight at South against Mooresville.
Second-year coach David Wright, who just led West to the second round of the 3A state playoffs, senses an upward swing in a program that peaked with a 37-31 record in 2003-04.
“The big difference having two schools is depth,” Wright said. “We had 18 kids out the first day last year. This year there were about 50. You can especially tell the difference in depth at the Junior level.”
South was 14-17 last season, a respectable showing that included winning a first-round playoff series from a very good Lexington team.
The big loss from 2006 is right fielder Zach Glass, who batted .431 and belted six homers. South will also miss shortstop Adam Butler.
“We lose Glass and Butler, but we replace them with young guys like Jordan Lowder and Matt Ingold,” Wright said.
Just about everyone is back, a year older, a year wiser and a year better.
Rudy Brown and Walker Snow were the two mound horses last summer, winning four games apiece. They’ll be the 1-2 punch again.
Brown, a big lefty who posted a 2.79 ERA last summer, returns from Surry Community College.
Snow carried a huge load for Carson, winning seven games on the hill for the Cougars and leading the county in homers with five.
“We’ll run Rudy and Walker out there every fifth day,” Wright said. “Rudy has looked sharp.”
Lowder, who won five games for South’s Raiders, may be another rotation anchor, and Michael Morgan, a three-game winner for the Raiders, can take a regular turn.
When you throw in Carson’s Randy Shepherd, Scott Ashby and Cameron Park, West’s C.J. Neal and Brett Huffman and South’s Ingold, Wright may have more mound options than any South Legion coach has ever had.
Another potential hurler is 2006 South graduate Chase Deal, who gave Wright 56 quality innings last summer. Deal chose work over college, but he’s also been working out for months with the high school team.
Catching will be a strong point with Surry’s Jonathon Basinger joining Ivan Corriher and Zach Watson. Basinger hit four homers and batted .314 last summer, while Corriher knocked in 14 runs and is coming off an excellent high school season.
Carson slugger Matt Smith will be part of the first base mix, along with Brown and Deal. Snow is a possibility at the infield corners or DH. His bat just about has to be in the lineup somewhere.
Daniel Wagner, who hit .416 last summer and stayed over .300 all year at Division I Belmont as a freshman, headlines the candidates at second base. He scored 39 runs, stole 18 bases and knocked in 17 runs last summer.
Wagner won’t be available for a while yet, but Neal can play second base. He’s good defensively and runs very well.
Ingold and Ryan Bostian, who hit over .300 with extra-base power and speed for South’s high school team, are the shortstops.
Deal, Huffman, Watson and Carson’s Justin Rose are candidates at third base. It’s also possible one of the middle infielders could slide over.
Veterans Caleb Shore (left) and Justin Lane (center) are counted on as everyday fixtures in the outfield.
Shore has some serious pop and led South’s high school team with four homers. Lane can fly, play defense and get on base. He’s a pest at the plate and scored 23 runs, third on the team behind Wagner and Glass, last summer.
Possibilities for right field include Shepherd, a .300-hitter for Carson, Morgan, Ashby and Bubba Daugherty.
“We should be able to play defense and hit with just about anybody we play,” Wright said. “We’ve got a lot of components, one of them being quite a bit more team speed than we had last year. But that long Legion season still boils down to how good your starting pitching is.”
South’s shouldn’t be bad at all, if everyone stays healthy.
Don’t look for South to challenge for the division title, but a finish in the top five is a realistic goal.
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