East's Sapp to Wingate

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 23, 2011

By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — Will Sapp has maintained a sense of humor in what has frequently been a discouraging recruiting process.
Sapp, East Rowan’s senior center fielder, began a hitting streak on March 17 and extended it to 17 games when he went 3-for-4 against South Rowan in an NPC tournament semifinal on May 4.
“Then I went 0-for-3 against West Iredell in the championship game to end it,” Sapp said. “Wouldn’t you know it — that’s the game Wingate came to see.”
East coach Brian Hightower gets more agitated with recruiting than he does with umpires. Hightower is convinced Sapp will be a productive college hitter and a dynamic center fielder, but Sapp will be heading to Wingate without a scholarship in his pocket.
He’s an excellent student who will be getting some academic scholarships, but his baseball future will come down to tryouts during which he’ll have to prove he belongs on a team that won the SAC tournament and played in the Southeast Regional.
“I’ll be rooming with Luke Thomas (East’s catcher signed with the Bulldogs last fall), and that should help both of us,” Sapp said.
Lots of coaches like Sapp. The knock on him when it came down to finding baseball scholarship dollars is he’s 5-foot-10, 150 pounds. Coaches wish he was bigger and stronger and they wonder how much he’ll be able to hit at the next level.
Everyone realizes Sapp can run, although he plays faster than the stop-watch says.
“He times 6.8 (in the 60-yard dash), but he plays center like a 6.5 guy because he gets such a great jump on the ball,” Hightower said.
In other words, Hightower would bet his house and Staton Field on Sapp making it in Division II.
“He’s not a big guy, but he can play,” Hightower said. “I don’t know what you have to do sometimes as far as recruiting, and it drives me crazy. Will is the best center fielder around. He’s got a strong, accurate arm. He’s great in the classroom.”
Hightower’s not upset with any particular school. He’s just frustrated coaches aren’t more excited about a guy he can’t say enough about.
“Especially with the rule changes this year with the bats,” Hightower said. “Smallball and bunts are back. The college game is great for Sapp.”
Hightower has had the advantage of seeing Sapp every day. Sapp doesn’t knock you out at first glance. You have to see him over a period of time to appreciate what he can do defensively, in the batter’s box and on the bases. Basically, he catches everything, he gets on base, and he scores when he gets on base.
Hightower said he had a similar experience two years ago when East outfielder Zach Smith was virtually ignored by recruiters. Smith is doing fine at Pitt Community College, and Hightower expects him to make an impact at Catawba next season.
Catawba was never in the market for Sapp, probably because it has a very similar player already on the roster. Blake Houston, who started for the Indians in center field this season as a freshman, is basically a left-handed hitting version of Sapp.
“Everyone who came to see me said, ‘Yeah, your defense is good, but you need to work on your hitting,’ ” Sapp said. “I know I’m not 6-2, 190, and I’m not going to hit the ball over the fence consistently. Maybe, one out of 50, I’ll hit out.”
Sapp paid jayvee dues at East before settling in as the No. 2 hitter and center fielder for a 3A state championship team as a junior.
Hitting in an ideal place in the lineup between senior stars Preston Troutman and Noah Holmes, Sapp enjoyed a monster season. He batted .369 with 40 runs scored and 29 RBIs.
His junior season peaked when he went 5-for-8 with six RBIs in East’s two games in the state championship series to earn MVP honors.
Wingate, among others, came to watch Sapp several times in the fall but never pulled the trigger on a scholarship offer.
Then his senior season got off to a 3-for-18 start.
“I was hoping to start better, but I was hitting it at ’em,” Sapp said. “I was starting to think I’d forgotten how to hit, but Hightower kept reminding me that I could.”
East’s leadoff man, he started swinging well in the middle of March and finished with good numbers that included a .337 batting average, a .430 on-base percentage, a team-best 35 runs scored and a 13-for-13 effort on stolen bases.
“He used both sides of the field and did a lot of good things as our catalyst offensively,” Hightower said. “Defensively, I don’t think anyone was better.”
Sapp batted .291 for the Rowan County American Legion team last summer, scored 37 runs and stole a team-high 16 bases. He’s excited about returning.
He has a GPA above 4.0 and aspirations of becoming an engineer. Hopefully, baseball will fit into his future as well as academics at Wingate.
“Wingate’s coaches have seen him some, but I don’t think they realize yet what they’ve got,” Hightower said. “Will should be a steal for them.”