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Shaw column: South’s Shepherd suddenly sizzling

It was only a week ago that Randy Shepherd and his .087 batting average were part of the problem at South Rowan.
Now ó after a weekend filled with long balls that were in the books while they were still in the air ó he’s a big part of the solution.
“I was like 2-for-something,” Shepherd said, recalling his miserable start for Post 185/146 this season. “And then about three games ago Coach Rimer told me to step in there, be a man, stay on the ball and just hit it. He told me to stop trying to do too much.”
Coach Rimer is Aaron Rimer, the former Rowan County outfielder who once hit .500 for North Rowan’s varsity. Nowadays he serves as one of David Wright’s assistants ó and his advice to Shepherd was dead-red.
“I don’t know what he was hitting, but it was bad,” Rimer said Saturday night, shortly after Shepherd launched two rockets over the Newman Park wall in a 9-7 loss to Rowan. “It seemed like he was trying to hit everything down the line and 700 feet. I told him he wasn’t going to be a good hitter unless he learned to appreciate a double.
“He was all-or-nothing,” Rimer added. “And a lot of times he came up with nothing.”
Shepherd’s caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis happened rather abruptly. He quickly righted a rudderless ship with a run-scoring single and a Ruthian, three-run homer in Friday’s 14-0 rout of Statesville. Last night he turned into a gunboat, drilling a solo home run in the seventh inning against RC reliever Kent Basinger, then driving a first-pitch fastball from Trey Holmes for a grand slam in the eighth. Worth noting is that both came with two outs.
“When he swings at strikes, he’s a good hitter,” said Wright, who simply hopes Shepherd’s cap still fits his head when South visits division-leading Mooresville tonight. “He’s gotten stronger, more mature and is taking better swings. It’s sort of where he’s at right now.”
It’s sort of where South needs him to be. Best known as a right-handed pitcher with a macho high-80’s fastball, Shepherd’s contributions at the plate are surprising ó and welcomed.
“He just dedicated himself to becoming a better hitter,” said teammate Caleb Shore. “But early in the season he was swinging at balls out of the strike zone, getting real long with his swing. That’s what’s changed.”
So have the results. South has scored 46 runs in its past four games. The first three were victories, lifting it into third place in the standings. And when Shepherd went deep against Holmes, providing Walker Snow with a 7-4 lead, a four-game winning streak was there for the taking.
“We just didn’t get there,” Shepherd said. “Some things didn’t go our way.”
That last reference was to a close play at home one pitch before Shepherd’s slam, when Weston Church was called out on a force play at the plate.
“Next pitch, they did go our way,” Shepherd said.
And half-an-inning later, everything went Rowan’s way. Camouflaged in the confusion was the significance of Shepherd’s breakout performance, a 6-foot-2 power surge from an unlikely source.
“He’s got great size,” Rimer said. “Now he’s letting it work for him. Instead of being a buck-20 hitter with 10 home runs, he’s trying to be a .350-guy with pop. It’s starting to work.”
South fans can only hope their emerging work-in-progress never stops working.
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Contact David Shaw at dshaw@salisburpost.com.

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