Prep Baseball: Salisbury preview

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 8, 2009

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.comAll-county leadoff man Russell Michalec returns for Salisbury, but when he looks behind him he may not recognize anyone other than first baseman Forrest Buchanan.
Even coach Scott Maddox may need to buy a program to sort out a mostly new bunch of Hornets the first month of the season. Well, except for his son, Ryne, a senior outfielder. Maddox has a pretty good idea what Ryne looks like.
Salisbury went 17-9 in 2008 and a 9-3 CCC mark gave the Hornets a co-championship รณ their first since 1984. But the Hornets have subtracted a lot.
Graduation hit hard.
Transfers hit harder.
Missing from the roster are Alex Britt, Doug Seaman, Robbie Ijames and David Ijames, a quartet that drove in 101 runs and provided 20 of Salisbury’s 24 homers.
Britt and Seaman graduated. The Ijames brothers, who batted .548 and .461, respectively, are swinging for East Rowan this season.
Also gone are regulars Ben Ijames, Anthony Ijames, Dustin Dupre and Andrew Butler.
“We’ve only got two returning starters so it would seem to be a rebuilding year,” Maddox said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys and we’ve got older players with limited varsity experience. Still, we’re farther along right now than I thought we’d be because we played so many games in the summer and fall.”
Maddox, entering his ninth season at SHS, has faced uncertain situations before.
His first four years at Salisbury the Hornets fought for respectability and went 20-67.
His last four, they’ve fought for league championships while posting a 61-42 slate.
Salisbury has won at least one playoff game each of the last three seasons.
Just qualifying for the playoffs will be a challenge this time, even though the addition of Providence Grove made the CCC an eight-team league and bumped the number of available state-playoff berths from four to five.
On paper, West Davidson and Central Davidson are the teams to beat. Ledford lost a ton of talent, but Ledford is still Ledford. East Davidson and Lexington weren’t very good last year, but they have everyone back.
Providence Grove drew many students from Eastern Randolph, a traditional baseball power, so the first-year Patriots won’t be pushovers.
“The key is for us to keep improving each time we take the field,” Maddox said. “If we can do that, we’ll be in the running for the playoffs.”
Salisbury isn’t going to score in bunches as it did last season when it piled double-digit runs on the scoreboard nine times, with a high of 17.
That means the Hornets have to pitch well to stay in games. There’s no way to replace the 632/3 quality innings workhorse Britt provided in 2008, but Maddox and pitching coach Justin Morgan have decent arms to work with.
Start with Michalec, a senior lefty who was the No. 3 guy last year. He was 3-2 with a sharp 1.73 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 241/3 innings.
“Russell is smart and has a decent fastball, but his changeup is what really makes him successful,” Maddox said.
Buchanan worked nine innings and was 1-0 with a 3.11 ERA last spring. He has a good fastball, a decent curve and an unusual arm slot that can deceive hitters.
Sophomore Philip Tonseth, a lefty, is penciled in as the No. 3 starter and can be effective when he hit his spots.
Junior sidearmer Jeremy Forbis gets lots of movement on the ball.
Other arms in the mix are sophomore John Knox, a football and basketball standout and senior Frankie Cardelle, who has made a name for himself in soccer and football.
Freshmen Nolan Meyerhoeffer and Kyle Wolfe could also get some innings right away.
Junior Jordan Fuller entered the season as the starting catcher, with Meyerhoeffer pushing him.
“Nolan blocks pitches well, but Fuller possesses the stronger arm,” Maddox said. “We’ll need consistency from that position to be successful.”
Buchanan swung a pretty solid bat for the Hornets last season, checking in with a .306 average and 12 RBIs. He’ll play first base except when he takes his turn on the mound. Forbis is the other option at first base. Maddox says both are capable defensively.
Knox, Meyerhoeffer and Wolfe are candidates for second base, but it’s wide open.
Maddox isn’t blessed with a natural shortstop, but he’s optimistic that Cardelle, who hit .219 in 32 at-bats last season, and Spencer Carmichael, a sophomore transfer from Gray Stone, can make plays on the left side of the infield.
Both are more at home at third base, but one will have to handle short.
The versatile Wolfe is also a possibility at third.
Michalec, one of the county’s top players, will patrol center field when he’s not pitching. He can run and has surprising power for a lean guy. He had a stellar junior season, batting .393 with nine doubles, 32 runs scored and 21 steals.
“Russell will give us good leadership out there and will cover a lot of ground,” Maddox said. “The other guys are more than capable. It’s just a matter of how quickly they adust to being out there.”
Ryne Maddox, Tonseth and Knox, who swung a big bat for the jayvees last year, are competing for outfield duty. Tonseth is a contact hitter who could fill the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Maddox is also a potential DH.
Soccer standouts Will Mason and Daman Bowman came out for baseball for the first time as seniors. They’ll plug holes and add to team speed. Courtesy runners and pinch-runners often decide a game or two each season.
Bryce Evans is another first-year senior. He’s coming off shoulder surgery, but Maddox likes his swing.
Maddox envisions his team scratching and clawing and little-balling its way to runs. The Hornets won’t hit many over the fence this year in their spacious home park, although Michalec did mash three longballs last season.
“Obviously we’re going to have to manufacture runs because we lost a lot of firepower, Maddox said. “How good we’ll be offensively I honestly don’t know, but Russell and Forrest are experienced guys and should more than pull their weight. Ryne and Cardelle have been swinging it well. They’ve been waiting for their opportunity.”
Besides Morgan, Maddox will get coaching assistance from Ryan Crowder, Lynn Foster and jayvee coach Chris Painter.
The Hornets won’t win 17 again, but they could surprise a few people.