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College Signing: Shepherd chooses Appalachian State

By Mike London
Salisbury Post
Randy Shepherd’s right arm is special enough that he’s already committed verbally to Appalachian State, and there’s a chance college won’t be the last stop on his baseball journey.
South Rowan Legion and West Rowan High coach David Wright uses “Shepherd” and “draft pick” in the same sentence frequently,
No one questions Shepherd has the God-given frame and talent to play the game a long time, so what happens down the road is up to the pitcher, his health and his work ethic.
“There’s just tremendous topside with Randy and a real bright future,” Wright said. “Good body, good arm slot, and he’s got that bore-down angle on hitters. At some juncture, Randy is going to throw the baseball very hard. Appalachian is high on him, and rightfully so.”
Shepherd, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, and still growing, estimates he’s added three inches and 20 pounds in the past year.
He and his parents have made life-changing decisions lately, and not just concerning college. Carson’s all-county ace and cleanup hitter in 2008, Shepherd has enrolled at West for his senior year.
The Shepherds’ reasons for relocating are their personal business, but it’s clear the family and Wright developed a close bond during two American Legion summers of nightly baseball.
Wright shut Shepherd down in July after he’d thrown 401/3 Legion innings.
“I wasn’t hurting,” Shepherd said. “But I’d pitched a lot of innings in high school and then Legion and I didn’t have the life on my fastball I usually have. I just needed a break.”
Wright made the shut-down decision although it significantly decreased his chances of competing with Randolph County in an Area III semifinal playoff series.
Cynics will say Wright was simply resting Shepherd’s arm to win games for the Falcons, but Wright has a track record as a guy who can see the big picture beyond today’s standings.
As a junior, Shepherd enjoyed unhittable stretches and always took the ball. He pitched in 13 of Carson’s 23 games and worked a county-high 722/3 innings. He was 6-5 for a 10-13 team, with 66 strikeouts and a 1.73 ERA.
In one midseason streak, he fired 26 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run, but he was more human down the stretch.
Carson coach Chris Cauble also owns a terrific track record ó 136-55 with three league championships and a state runner-up finish in seven seasons at West before he left to start a new program in China Grove.
Shepherd made big strides at Carson ó from 2-2 as a contributing sophomore to one of the NPC’s dominant players as a junior ó but he’s elected to follow a different road as a senior.
It goes without saying West could field a powerhouse this spring. The Falcons return their roster almost intact from a 15-11 team that surged down the stretch, and Mooresville standout Jon Crucitti, a stud in baseball and football, also has enrolled at West.
Lefty Zack Simpson (8-2 as a sophomore) figures to form a dynamic mound duo with Shepherd, and the Falcons may be a factor in the state as well as the NPC.
Shepherd also brings a power bat to West’s lineup, and he can play an acceptable infield corner or left field when he’s not pitching or serving as the DH.
He hit .344 for the Cougars last season, and while he didn’t hit for average for South’s Legion team, he mashed nine homers ó mostly tape-measure shots ó in 102 at-bats.
“We’ll work on his swing some,” Wright said. “But as much as Randy enjoys taking his at-bats and enjoys being an everyday player in the field, he understands his future is on that hill.”
Toward fulfilling that future, Wright has started Shepherd on a weightlifting and stretching program. In time, swimming will be incorporated into his training regimen.
“Well, I like swimming better than running,” Shepherd said with a laugh. “I’ve never worked out for my legs like this before, and I’m sure it’s going to help. I’m stretching more than I did when I lifted weights in the past, so I won’t get tight.”
Wright said Shepherd won’t throw for at least two months. Maybe three.
Shepherd did throw enough pitches for his stock to rise rapidly this summer.
Appalachian State assistant coach Matt Boykin attended a Wilkes County-South Rowan game to scout a Wilkes player. He saw Shepherd hit a homer, and he told Wright he’d like to see him pitch. That’s why Wright put Shepherd on the mound for the seventh inning to finish a 13-1 game. Shepherd cruised 1-2-3 and struck out two.
The State Games followed, and Shepherd was impressive with four sharp innings against top-notch competition. He fanned five and allowed only one hit. Shepherd threw steady 86s and 87s, and UNC Wilmington, Charlotte and Gardner-Webb joined the list of suitors.
But Shepherd had established a rapport with Boykin, and an unofficial visit to ASU convinced him he wanted to go to school in Boone.
“New field, new pressbox, new bleachers, new training room, indoor training facility,” Shepherd said. “After I visited, I told everyone else who called I’d already made up my mind.”
After years of struggling, Appalachian State has posted back-to-back 30-win seasons under former Pfeiffer coach Chris Pollard, and the Mountaineers are making another serious recruiting haul.
Shepherd’s State Games teammates Ryan Stetson (Ardrey Kell), Tyler Zupcic (Providence) and Tyler Tewell (Butler) have given ASU verbal commitments.
R-S Central pitcher Ryan Arrowood, the 3A Player of the Year, and Central Davidson’s slugging shortstop Zack Briggs are bound for Boone this fall.
ASU had three players drafted in June. One, former A.L. Brown pitcher Garrett Sherrill, has become a role model for Shepherd.
“Sherrill was the guy Coach Pollard talked to me about the most,” Shepherd said. “He said he was an 86-87 mph guy when he got up there, and he was drafted this year as a 94-95 guy.”
Shepherd, who complements his four-seam fastball with a curve and changeup, wants to follow Sherrill to the pros, and Wright is eager to help Shepherd reach his goals.
“Randy was climbing to 87-88 this summer, and he’s just learning to pitch and handle his body,” Wright said.
“I see him at 215 pounds and throwing 90-plus for us in February. Randy is potentially a mid-90s power arm in college, and he could be a draft pick as early as next June.”

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