Prep Baseball: Hogan still stars for Carson
This is the first of several stories on Rowan baseball.
By Ronnie Gallagher
CHINA GROVE — Chris Cauble had at least one coach tell him recently he’d be glad not to hear the names “Zubillaga” and “Grkman” over the P.A. system this year when playing Carson.
Those names helped Carson to a 20-8 season in 2010 that saw the Cougars go to the second round of the 3A playoffs.
Unfortunately for Carson’s opponents, they’ll still hear the name “Gunnar Hogan” and that may be even more scary. The Catawba signee had 34 hits last season that produced 35 RBIs and he is a strong candidate for NPC Player of the Year.
Hogan will be important because Cauble lost more talented seniors than just the two mentioned above.
“Gunnar’s just a hard-nosed player who is a leader by example,” Cauble said. “After the first two scrimmages, we challenged him to be more of a vocal leader. But it’s also time for some of the kids who have been in the program for three to four years to step up and take over.”
It starts on the mound where junior right-hander Ethan Free will lead the staff.
“He has an 82-83 mph fastball with a lot of movement,” Cauble said. “He’s got a real good cutter.”
Free (5-1, 1.93 ERA) stepped up in the Easter tournament last year against Davie “and never turned back,” according to Cauble.
Also seeing action this year are seniors Gavin Peeler and Brent Black, juniors Josh Martin, Caleb Trexler, Austin Bracewell and Mitch Galloway, and freshman Dillon Atwell.
Martin (5-1) came up big last year. The burly Galloway will start. Peeler has come on strong after arm surgery. Bracewell will be a sidearm set-up man in the mold of Will Misenheimer. Cauble calls Atwell “an up and coming star” who is perhaps the hardest thrower on the staff.
Free & Company will be throwing to one of the best catchers around in senior Joseph Basinger.
Basinger has already shown his cleanup hitting ability for Carson (2-2 heading into an early showdown with East Rowan on Friday). He had two hits, three runs and four RBIs in a 17-0 win over Statesville on Tuesday.
After battling injuries throughout his career, Basinger is 100 percent healthy now.
“We’re counting on a lot of RBIs out of him,” Cauble said. “The best part is, he’s a field general behind the plate.”
Scottie Hinson will back him up.
Returning starter Kyle Bridges (.351) is at first with Galloway backing him up. Bridges gives Carson a good left-handed stick.
“He came on strong at the end of the year,” Cauble said. “He hits the ball all over the field. We’re looking for a lot of leadership out of Kyle.”
Senior Kyle Youngo has waited his turn behind Zubillaga and is a good defensive player at second. Chase Johnson, up from jayvee, will also see time.
The best thing about Hogan at shortstop is that he has signed.
“He can relax a little more and enjoy his senior year,” said Cauble, who is hoping backup Austin McNeil can learn from one of the best.
Martin will play third when he’s not pitching. He’s good defensively and hits to all fields. Hunter Bridges can play third, second or in the outfield.
Three seniors anchor the defense. Tripp Cross is in left, Peeler in center and Sam Williams in right.
Cross is coming off an ankle injury from football but had a pin put in and is 90 percent.
“He has a lot of pop in his bat,” Cauble said. “He’ll supply power for us and give us needed speed in the outfield.”
Peeler gets a good jump on the ball due to his speed. “Hopefully, he’ll have the year I know he can have,” Cauble said.
“Williams has been stuck behind a couple of veterans who graduated. Hopefully, it’s time for him to step up. He hits the baseball with a lot of authority.”
Backups are talented in Dylan Carpenter, K.J. Pressley, who will play center when Peeler’s pitching, and Connor Bridges.
Carson lost to Charlotte Catholic 3-2 in the second round last year, but overall Cauble was pleased.
“Getting 20 wins in baseball is the makings of a pretty good season,” he said.
“We have to pitch to contact and get ground balls,” he said. “And limit walks. Hitting-wise, we possess the capabilities to be a good hitting team. It’s a work in progress. We’ll be a lot better at the end.”
Cauble always has the same goal: to win the conference. But Cauble knows there’s a big roadblock right up the road in East Rowan, the defending state 3A champ. He knows West Iredell will be good.
“We can also be right up there,” Cauble said.