Wilkes adds recruits
By Mike London
South Rowan graduate Michael Morgan is already the answer to a trivia question ó Who scored the first points in a boys basketball game in Carson’s gym? ó and he’ll have a chance to add to his athletic legacy at Wilkes Community College.
Wilkes coach Seth Graham announced Morgan, Salisbury’s Ben Ijames and Carson’s Jeremy Mullis will join his baseball program this fall.
Morgan, a lean, rangy athlete with a strong arm and good speed, was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis ó a crack in his lower vertebrae ó the summer after his junior year. He missed his senior basketball season, but he returned to the diamond this spring and was an all-county pitcher.
The right-hander was 5-1 with a 3.69 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings for the Raiders, and he owned fantastic numbers until he was shelled by Mooresville late in the season.
Morgan won against Salisbury, threw a complete game against West Iredell and held down Davie County for seven innings in the Cliff Peeler Easter Tournament championship game that South won in the ninth.
Morgan often played right field when he didn’t pitch, and while his .203 batting average wasn’t impressive, he was productive with 13 RBIs and 13 steals in 64 at-bats.
As a junior, Morgan was 3-3 with 26 strikeouts and also stole 10 bases.
“We really like Michael’s size and we look for him to play outfield and pitch for us,” Graham said. “His family has baseball in its blood, but Michael has never been that guy who’s worked at baseball fall, spring and summer. There’s a lot of upside there once he gets in the weight room and concentrates on baseball.”
Morgan’s brother, Andrew, was 2003 Rowan County Athlete of Year, set South Rowan Legion records for wins, strikeouts and homers and pitched four years at UNC Wilmington.
Andrew was a tough act for anyone to follow, and Michael wasn’t sure if he wanted to pursue college baseball, even after he got an offer from Division II St. Andrews.
“One of the reasons I didn’t play Legion this summer was I wanted to see how much I’d miss baseball,” said Morgan, who showed up to watch his former teammates play several games. “I found out I missed it, really missed it, and now I can’t wait to get back out there.”
Graham said Morgan taking time off this summer to see if he wanted to make a serious commitment wasn’t a bad idea, but Mullis and Ijames stayed busy. They played Palomino League baseball with high school teammates.
“We’ve been watching Ben Ijames for a couple of years,” Graham said. “He’s not a bad runner, and while he’s not the most athletic guy, he always finds a way to get the job done. We’ll look at him at second base, but he could be a utility guy and play several places.”
Ijames hit .276 with a homer and 13 RBIs his junior year and batted .326 with five doubles and 12 RBIs while earning All-CCC accolades as a senior.
Ijames also has been a key pitcher for coach Scott Maddox’s Hornets. He was 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA and a strikeout per inning as a junior, and he was 3-1 with 34 Ks as a senior.
Mullis batted .356 as a senior for coach Chris Cauble’s Cougars, belted nine doubles and finished the season riding a 12-game hitting streak. Mullis had at least one hit in every game after the Easter tournament.
Mullis also showed potential in limited outings as a pitcher, recording a 1.36 ERA in 101/3 innings.
His junior year, Mullis batted .266 with 13 RBIs.
Mullis played mostly third base for Carson, but he also has experience at shortstop and first base.
“We’re planning to work Jeremy at third base,” Graham said. “He’s a hard-nosed kid, and I love recruiting Rowan County because that’s where you find kids that play hard and know the game.”
Graham is confident Morgan, Ijames and Mullis are part of the best recruiting class in Wilkes Community College history.
Brad Chavis, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound All-State catcher who hit nine homers for South Caldwell, was the biggest catch for Graham.
Another key signee is East Burke pitcher Ethan Icard, who has a mid-to-upper 80s fastball. Graham said Icard opted for Wilkes even though he was offered by Mars Hill.More help is on the way.
Jason Ridenhour, a pitcher/outfielder from North Rowan, is transferring to Wilkes after spending his freshman year at Methodist.
Ridenhour was 2-0 in 10 mound appearances for the Monarchs, but he got only 13 at-bats.
In 2007, Ridenhour had a sensational senior season at North, batting .466 with two homers, 10 doubles and 33 runs scored.
Graham is counting on several more local players.
North Rowan’s Tanner Brown was 0-5 as a Wilkes freshman, but he’s blossomed this summer while winning seven times for the Rowan Legion team, and he could shine for Wilkes as a sophomore.
Carson’s Walker Snow was a workhorse for Wilkes as a freshman (2-8, but with 54 strikeouts in 55 innings), but an ailing elbow limited his innings with the South Rowan Legion team this summer. Snow was still tough to hit and saved six games, but his immediate future is uncertain.
A.L. Brown’s Jason Brown, who played for the Kannapolis Legion team, returns to the Wilkes outfield, and West Rowan’s brawny Justin Kidd is headed back to Wilkes after starring at first base for Mocksville’s Legion team.
Wilkes was 14-35 this season, but Graham is optimistic the program is on the verge of something better.
He expects Cy Young, a right-handed pitcher who won 40 games for Rowan Legion and East Rowan squads, to be back in uniform after missing the 2008 season.
Graham also is counting on a boost from former Davie County and Lenoir-Rhyne shortstop Lance Emert.
Wilkes experienced budget cuts that dismantled the women’s volleyball and men’s basketball programs, but Graham is confident baseball is on firm footing.
“Baseball brings in a lot students, the field is only a few years old and we’ve put a lot of money into it, so I’m sure we’ll be OK,” Graham said.
“We’re real fired up about Cy coming back, and if all the kids make their grades we’ll have a good team.”
Wilkes is scheduled to play in a junior college tournament at Newman Park in early October, and Graham hopes Young will be on the hill.