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Prep Baseball: South Rowan preview

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.comLANDIS ó Thad Chrismon, a big part of South Rowan’s baseball program since 2001, will call the shots as head coach for the first time.
He follows Linn Williams, who had a pretty good eight-season run. The Raiders were 97-99 with Williams as head coach and Chrismon as pitching coach and won two league titles in the 4A ranks.
South is a downsized 3A school these days with far fewer students than walked the halls in the glory days of 2002-03 when Andrew Morgan and Daniel Moore pitched the Raiders to playoff victories.
When the 2009-10 school year rolls around, South will compete on a level playing field in its own conference for the first time since the mid-1980s. But for one more baseball season, it’s looking at uphill fights in the NPC.
Right now, South is only a tad bigger than Salisbury High. It has 800 fewer students than Lake Norman, 700 fewer than Northwest Cabarrus and 500 fewer than Mooresville. Maverick Miles can play, but it’s not easy to make up that kind of talent-pool differential.
Where does that leave South in ’09?
Probably in the middle of the NPC pack, scrapping for respect in a league that figures to be ruled by East Rowan, West Rowan and Mooresville.
Fourth, fifth and sixth are playoff positions. The NPC, in its final months as a 10-team monster, gets six berths.
“It’s a privilege to play in such a good, deep conference,” Chrismon said. “Your league molds you as a team. Lake Norman came out of this league as a No. 6 seed and went to the third round of the playoffs last year. It’s such a tough conference, but you know if you do make the playoffs you can compete with just about anyone out there.”
South finished tied for third last season, but got a rough draw as the No. 4 seed. That meant a first-round trip to R-S Central where it got a good look at Ryan Arrowood.
Arrowood, one of the state’s best hurlers in 2008, now throws fastballs for Appalachian State.
South still had one heck of a season, going 16-9 overall and 10-8 in the NPC. South hasn’t had more than 16 wins since it was 23-4 in 1996.
The bad news is the Raiders lost five fine players in Caleb Shore, Ryan Bostian, Matt Ingold, Michael Morgan and Jordan Lowder. All five could hit, field, pitch and run.
“That was a really good class of seniors and a very versatile class,” Chrismon said. “Those were multiple-position guys who could play anywhere so it’s almost like losing 10 people. It’s hard to replace ’em, but those voids leave opportunities.”
Whose back?
Start with Miles, a junior with a sweet hitting stroke, developing power and consistent 6.6-6.7 speed in the 60-yard dash, even though he’s almost 200 pounds of muscle.
Even with all those strong seniors, Miles was South’s most consistent hitter as a sophomore. He hit .407 with 27 RBIs and stole 12 bases.
Already verbally committed to High Point, Miles had 10 extra-base hits and could double that total this season ó assuming he gets a few strikes to swing at.
“Mav is obviously a key to how far we can go,” Chrismon said. “He’s our No. 3 hitter, but we have to fit guys around him who can set the table for him and protect him. He’ll also take on more of a leadership role this season.”
Miles played second base as a soph, but he’s expected to be the shortstop now that Ingold is at UNC Pembroke.
“Mav’s made a lot of improvement as far as footwork and arm strength,” Chrismon said. “He has good hands and he’s a good infielder. He’s gotten bigger, but he’s packed it on in all the right places.”
Another given in the lineup is junior center fielder Blake Houston. He hit .286 with 22 runs and 14 steals and should be an all-county candidate as the leadoff man.
Houston is a special athlete. He quarterbacks the football team and was a key reserve in basketball.
Preston Penninger became the starting catcher as a freshman when Alex Ingold, Matt’s brother, was injured. Penninger held the job, batting .242 with 10 RBIs and belting two game-winning homers.
Ingold played well for South’s Legion team and is healthy now, but he’s also the most versatile Raider. He’ll be needed several places so Penninger is expected to remain the No. 1 catcher.
Ingold will catch when Penninger pitches. Ingold may also find himself at third base, DH or left field when he checks the lineup card.
Jordan Corriher was a find late last season as a slugging DH. He was 10-for-27 (.370) with three homers. Based on his power, he’s the likely guy to hit cleanup behind Miles, and he’ll be given a chance to claim a job at third base.
“Jordan came into his own late in the year,” Chrismon said. “He’s also worked as hard as anyone we’ve got in the offseason.”
J.D. Bare will pitch and is a candidate for second base. He was 2-0 on the mound last season, but an injury (he was struck in the face by a ball) required major surgery. He’s been cleared by doctors.
That’s it as far as experienced varsity players, but Steve Erwin, Jacob Dietz and Dylan Walker may be ready for prime time.
Erwin, a tenacious football player who paced the jayvees in RBIs, is expected to handle first base. He’ll compete with Jordan West, a reserve last season.
Dietz is only a sophomore, but he could win the job at second base.
“Dietz works hard and has good fundamentals,” Chrismon said. “He’s got a chance to be pretty good.”
Walker could start in right field and is counted on as a frontline pitcher. He’s gotten experience in Legion ball and has done well as a jayvee. He’ll join Ingold, Penninger, Houston and Bare on a new-look pitching staff.
Penninger was expected to pitch frequently for the jayvees last season before he was pressed into duty as the varsity catcher.
Houston worked on pitching with Chrismon last season with the future in mind. The lefty wasn’t needed on the mound in ’08 with Bostian, Morgan and Lowder logging the lion’s share of the innings.
Pitching is Chrismon’s specialty (he was a star reliever at North Carolina), and he feels pretty good about his staff.
“Do we have an established ace? No, we don’t,” Chrismon said. “But I think these guys can keep the ball down, pound the strike zone and keep us in games. I think our defense can be good, and a lot of times pitching stats are a reflection of how good your defense is.”
Jacob Jester, Tyler Lefler and J.R. Overcash are competing for time in the outfield. The husky pair of James Hall and Justin Hall joined the team in late February.
No household names outside of Miles and Houston, but expect South to do OK.
“It’s not a bad position to be in because our kids always seem to rise to the challenge when people don’t expect much,” Chrismon said. “Every conference game we play they’ll have an opportunity to prove something.”

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