East outfield full of speed
By Bret Strelow
GRANITE QUARRY ó Two-thirds of East Rowan’s starting outfield traded track spikes for baseball cleats before the start of a mid-April home game against Statesville, and the Mustangs didn’t miss a beat.
East, which begins the 3A state championship series against Rocky Mount on Friday in Zebulon, has held opposing offenses in check with stingy pitching and strong defense.
The blazing speed of outfielders Micah Jarrett, Ben DeCelle and Zach Smith has cut down the number of extra-base hits and contributed to low ERAs across the board.
“I’ve never seen an outfield in high school cover the amount of ground they can cover,” senior first baseman Trey Holmes said. “You’ve got speed all the way around.”
Jarrett, the center fielder, and DeCelle, the left fielder, showed off their athleticism before joining the Mustangs for a 10-0 victory against Statesville on April 17.
The Rowan County Track Meet at East started three hours before the baseball game, and the field for the 100-meter dash included a pair of surprising entries.
Jarrett and DeCelle ran in the third and final heat. Jarrett won that race with a time of 11.70 seconds, and DeCelle crossed next with a time of 11.71.
“We went out there and were neck-and-neck,” DeCelle said. “We both ran the exact same time, but they said Micah got me by a hair. I don’t know about that. I still question that.”
Jarrett finished with the seventh-fastest time among 16 participants, and the top six places scored. All-state defensive back Justin Avery took first, and varsity running backs claimed the next five spots.
Only one runner in the second heat had a better time than Jarrett and DeCelle.
“The 100-meter dash is a little longer than home to first, that’s for sure,” Jarrett said. “We had a good time with it.”
East track coach Rick Roseman had spoken with baseball coach Brian Hightower earlier in the spring about the option of Jarrett and DeCelle competing.
DeCelle already owned a pair of track shoes, but Jarrett had to make a rushed purchase.
“I knew it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to run in our baseball cleats,” Jarrett said. “I went on the Internet and found some real cheap. I wasn’t going to try to spend any money, and I went out to find the cheapest pair I could find. It couldn’t have been much ó $30, if that.”
Justin Roland and Matt Lefko attended the track meet to show support for Jarrett, a fellow senior, and DeCelle. Holmes and Gilbert Garduno are the other seniors on a team attempting to guide East to its first state baseball title since 1995.
Roland leads the Mustangs with 25 stolen bases ó 10 more than Jarrett’s total ó and each starting outfielder has at least 10. When Roland pitches, Jarrett moves to shortstop and Smith slides over to center. Lefko plays right field in those situations.
A Boston College coach was on hand when Jarrett robbed West Rowan’s Matt Sheets of an extra-base hit in the seventh inning of a 9-1 win by East, and a Wake Forest coach witnessed impressive displays of arm strength and baserunning from Jarrett in a victory against Carson.
“Our defense has been one of the main things opposing teams and their coaches have talked about,” said Jarrett, who has signed with Wake. “That’s something we take pride in. The outfielders, we have faith in each other to make the plays.”
Excellent defense enabled East to remain competitive in the first game of the Western championship series even though South Point’s Zach Horne no-hit the Mustangs for eight innings.
DeCelle made a difficult catch as he retreated toward the fence in the first inning of East’s 1-0 loss. His quick retrieval of a hit down the third-base line in the third inning limited Jordan Edgerton, South Point’s leadoff batter, to a two-out single.
Courtesy runner Spencer Wiles sprinted away from first on a hit-and-run play in the fourth inning of the same game, and Weston Lawing delivered a single to center. Jarrett’s perfect strike to third base beat Wiles to the bag and produced an inning-ending out.
“The first thing everybody thinks about with speed is that it helps you offensively, but if you come watch us play, you see how many hits are taken away by the speed that we have out there,” Hightower said. “We’ve got Jarrett roaming in center, DeCelle and Smitty out there, and those are all low 60 times.
“They take away a lot of singles, track down doubles. Even if it’s a hit in the gap, sometimes they can cut a double to a single. We save ourselves a lot with our speed out there. On top of that, they all have great arms out there and hit their cuts.”
East’s outfielders will have more room to roam this weekend.
At the Mustangs’ home park, the center-field fence is 370 feet from home plate. The foul poles are 310 feet down the line.
The state championship series will be held in Zebulon at Five County Stadium, home of the Double-A Carolina Mudcats. Home plate is 400 feet from the wall in center and 330 feet from the foul poles.
Jarrett will step into a spot often occupied by Florida Marlins prospect Cameron Maybin, an Asheville native who went 10th overall in the 2005 draft.
“We’re not going to be able to give up on anything,” Jarrett said. “We have the speed where if a ball is hit over our head we can run it down, so we’ll just have to trust ourselves on that. We’ll have to play a little smarter as far as balls in the gap ó angles we’ll have to take on them ó just to make sure nothing gets past us.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.