Prep Baseball: North's Laurens headed to Catawba

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 26, 2011

By Mike London
SPENCER — The announcement that North Rowan senior Matt Laurens would become part of Catawba’s baseball program didn’t strike fear into the hearts of pitchers around the SAC, but there’s a chance they’ll know who Laurens is before he leaves.
Laurens is a diamond-in-the-rough, a late-bloomer with an abundance of physical skills and a willingness to push himself to get better. He isn’t a household name yet, but he soon could be.
Catawba isn’t sure yet if Laurens will be a lefty-hitting outfielder or a right-handed pitcher — or both.
Laurens isn’t sure yet either. He’s beginning to experience considerable success as both a hurler and a hitter, so some decisions will have to be made in the future.
“My position is something the coaches will figure out once I get there,” Laurens said. “I’ll be fine with what they decide.”
Laurens launched two home runs to right-center on Saturday and went 5-for-6 to push his batting average from .271 to .333. He drove in six runs as North won 12-10 against Central Cabarrus. He actually had as many RBIs in that game as he had his entire sophomore season, which gives you an idea how far he’s come.
Needed on a struggling varsity team (5-16) as a sophomore, Laurens batted .222 with one extra-base hit in 54 at-bats. He was 0-3 on the mound with an ERA that looked like a shoe size.
He was better as a junior, batting .260 with 13 RBIs. His ERA was still too high — 6.68 — but he won two games and his 41 strikeouts in 362/3 innings demonstrated serious potential.
As a senior, besides leading the Cavaliers in homers, he’s knocked in 19 runs. He’s also 3-1 on the mound with a 3.92 ERA and has dramatically decreased his walks from previous seasons.
“Mostly, it’s having some confidence,” Laurens said. “I feel relaxed, and when I’m hitting, I’m seeing the ball better.”
All his stats are moving in the right direction, and North coach Aaron Rimer is glad to see Laurens moving in the direction of Catawba.
Rimer, who finished up with the Indians in 2006, hit 25 homers and drove in 106 runs his last two years at Newman Park. He was a productive left-handed bat on a mostly right-handed team.
Catawba actually had four ex-North players in that era, with Jimbo Davis, Bubba Morris and Kevin McMillan joining Rimer. All were key players.
“I’ll always be happy to see one of our good ones go to Catawba,” Rimer said. “To be honest, Matt’s got some tools that I never had. He’s off the charts as far as athletic ability. Pitcher or outfielder, I don’t know, but he could be either. You can’t teach height (Laurens is a good 6-foot-2), you can’t teach speed, and you can’t teach arm strength, and Matt’s got all three.”
Laurens has a comfort zone at Catawba. His father works at the school, and Laurens is very familiar with assistant coach Michael Lowman and head coach Jim Gantt.
“I go back to the eighth grade and Junior Legion with Lowman, and I got to play with Rowan County some, so I know Coach Gantt,” said Laurens, who also has played lots of showcase ball with the Huntersville-based Copperheads.
Gantt and Lowman saw the strides Laurens was making last fall, and the Indians decided they wanted him.
“I did do pretty well in the fall,” Laurens modestly admitted.
Catawba may have landed another Rimer, but only time will tell about that.
“He’s a left-handed stick, and everybody needs those,” Rimer said. “Matt’s already pretty good, but I can see him developing into something really special. He has a chance to be one heck of a player.”