Prep Baseball Preview: South Rowan

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2011

By Mike London
LANDIS — Maverick Miles put up staggering stats, Blake Houston was one of the best three-sport athletes South Rowan’s ever had, and Dylan Walker was one of the county’s top pitchers.
That trio graduated and isn’t replaceable, but coach Thad Chrismon isn’t looking for a bridge to leap off of. He’s optimistic South can be as good as it was in 2010 when it made a nice jump from 7-16 to 16-10 and won a 3A playoff game.
“We lost a great senior class that gave us considerable production and gave us leadership that was even more important than their talent,” Chrismon said. “But we have experienced players back. We’ve got a pretty good little team here.”
County co-player of the year Miles (nine homers, .588 batting average) has taken his bat to High Point, while Houston (.459, gold glove work in center field) starts for Catawba as a freshman.
Walker, who won six games and pitched most of the tough ones for Chrismon, is on the staff at Catawba Valley Community College.
“It’s important for our guys to realize that no one person can be Maverick or Blake or Dylan,” Chrismon said. “But you have to replace seniors every year, and we’ll find the right guys for the right spots. Our guys have the right approach. This group practices extremely hard, and every day they get a little bit better.”
South’s marquee player could be a sophomore. Catcher Eric Tyler was a stud at the plate as a varsity freshman (21 RBIs, .324), and his defense is ahead of his offense.
“Eric’s not a finished product, but we know how lucky we are to have him,” Chrismon said. “Defense is where he makes a difference. He has the arm, the receiving skills, and he knows the game. He’s going to provide a lot of leadership for this program.”
Tyler snuck up on pitchers last season. That shouldn’t happen in 2011 — everyone knows who the kid is now — but he’s smart enough to make adjustments. Chrismon is counting on Tyler to provide occasional homers and a flurry of RBIs out of the No. 3 spot.
“Eric’s got more room to improve offensively than defensively, but he’ll be a good bat for us,” Chrismon said.
South lost serious speed with the graduation of Miles and Houston. Miles had 41 steals in his four varsity seasons, while Houston had 37 in three years.
South’s speed this season will come from sophomore shortstop Dylan Goodman, who’s looked great so far, and veteran center fielder Tyler Kowalczyk. Miles and Houston were a double-steal waiting to happen. Goodman and Kowalczyk could be as well.
Goodman opened the season as the leadoff man, with Kowalczyk hitting behind him.
Kowalczyk was a solid player in a supporting role in 2010. Pitchers mostly worried about Miles and Houston, and he stung them for a .338 batting average, mostly out of the No. 9 hole. He scored 21 runs, was sharp in right field and made the all-county team.
There will be more on Kowalczyk’s shoulders this season, hitting high in the lineup and moving from right field to center. He’s got to score runs and make plays, but there’s no reason to think he won’t do that.
Right-center at South looks like Yankee Stadium. You have to be a sprinter to play center for the Raiders, and Kowalczyk, who answers to “Taco,” qualifies. He can go.
“Taco is a natural center fielder,” Chrismon said. “I’m sure he’s been the center fielder on every team he’s ever been on, except when he’s played with Blake.”
Jacob Dietz is a two-year starter. Dietz struggled in the NPC as a sophomore, but he produced a .313 batting average last season while playing second base.
He’s added muscle and maturity and could have a breakout year. Chrismon expects Dietz to play third base most of the time, and he’s penciled in as the cleanup hitter who will protect Tyler.
“Dietz has played second base because we needed him there, but he profiles best as a corner infielder,” Chrismon said. “His biggest asset is he has a ton of experience.”
Another seasoned bat belongs to Preston Penninger, who’s produced numerous clutch hits, including a homer that won the 2008 Easter tournament for the Raiders.
Penninger’s .269 batting average in 2010 wasn’t special, but he hit three homers and knocked in 19 runs (fourth on the team) in just 52 at-bats.
Besides being a key pitcher, he’ll get starts at first base and could serve as the DH.
Cory Deason is a veteran with some power. He’s a candidate for playing time at third base and DH.
Another potentially lethal stick belongs to Matt Miller, who was an astounding 10-for-17 last season when he got chances to swing. Miller should get all the at-bats he can handle this season, whether he’s pitching or playing left field.
Junior Parker Hubbard, who got a taste of varsity ball last season, has looked good defensively. Chrismon is counting on him as the regular second baseman, and he’ll contribute with the bat.
“Hubbard and Goodman really work well together around the bag at second, and that chemistry in the infield is very important,” Chrismon said.
Another new face in the starting lineup is sophomore right fielder Dillon Parker, who was 4-for-15 in limited varsity duty last season.
“He’s a very good athlete,” Chrismon said. “He runs well and he can swing it.”
Jordan Kennerly also swings the bat well. He had a clutch, two-run double on opening night against Mount Pleasant. He’ll get DH at-bats.
Daniel Mullis’ primary role is relief ace, but he’s also a skilled defensive first baseman. Sophomore Bubba McLaughlin wields a solid bat and could work his way into the mix at first along with Penninger and Mullis.
Tyler Corriher, mostly a pitcher, will be counted on to play left field when Miller is on the mound.
It’s a small squad, and many Raiders will be counted on for multiple roles. Chrismon has no pitchers who don’t also play a position. Every time he waves in a new hurler, there will be defensive switches.
South doesn’t figure to score tons of runs against good teams, so strong pitching is going to be a necessity.
Miller (4-2) struck out a batter per inning last season as South’s No. 2 starter and is expected to be the ace.
“Very good stuff — maturing as a pitcher and honing his control,” Chrismon said.
Penninger had a high ERA in 2010, but he also won four times.
“Preston’s started a lot of varsity games,” Chrismon said. “He doesn’t get rattled. He throws strikes. When he mixes it up and locates, he’s successful.”
Corriher pitched 13 innings last season and won once. He’ll be the No. 3 starter and a key reliever.
Mullis, who had two saves in 2010 and has pitched in some tough situations, will be counted on to close.
Parker, Kennerly and Tyler are the other potential hurlers.
South won early against strong Northwest Cabarrus and took its first two league games, so it appears Chrismon’s optimism isn’t misplaced.
“We’re a work in progress and a lot of people don’t know many of our kids’ names right now,” Chrismon said. “But I really like this team.”