Prep Baseball: Carson's Bridges headed to Lynchburg
By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Carson coach Chris Cauble is certain an early-season benching in 2010 helped Kyle Bridges become a next-level player.
Ask Bridges about that, and he agrees. Facing major adversity as a junior and overcoming it is a big reason he’s headed to play baseball at Lynchburg, with the bulk of his education paid for.
Bridges was a pleasant surprise for the Cougars as a sophomore, stepping into the varsity lineup at first base and batting a respectable .286 out of the No. 9 spot. He started all but a handful of games, so he naturally assumed he’d be a first-stringer again as a junior.
Cauble is no fan of assumptions, and when he made out his opening-day lineup card, Bridges wasn’t on it.
Weston Snow, an outfielder when 100 percent was coming back from an injury. Cauble had him at first base and batting seventh against Northwest Cabarrus’ tough southpaw Taylor West.
Snow being a right-handed hitter and Bridges being a lefty had something to do with that decision, but Bridges wasn’t thrilled.
“Kyle had played about every game as a sophomore, so he was sure he’d start as a junior,” Cauble said. “But Weston was hurt, and that put Kyle and him in a battle at first base.”
Bridges was a defensive replacement in Carson’s second game — a win against Robinson and young ace Brody Koerner. When Snow had a huge offensive game against Cox Mill a few days later and followed it up with a 3-for-3 effort against Salisbury, it looked like Bridges might sit on the pine for life.
“I got what I deserved,” Bridges said. “My attitude was my problem. I’d never had to compete for a spot before, and I went into a hole a little bit, but it helped me in the long run. It made me a lot more competitive.”
Bridges saw the light and started climbing out of that hole. By Carson’s eighth game, he was back in the lineup at first base, with Snow playing either left or right field.
Bridges started Carson’s last 21 games, hit safely in 15 of them and had multiple hits six times. He finished the season batting .351 and was a terrific No. 9 guy.
“I think not playing for several games got Kyle refocused,” Cauble said. “He got back into the right work ethic, and he’s still never let go of it.”
With players such as Snow, Zack Grkman, Julio Zubillaga, Tyler Freeze and Patrick Bearden graduated, Bridges assumed more of a leadership role for the Cougars as a senior.
He batted .344 as a fixture in the No. 2 spot. Eight walks and six HBPs, lifted his on-base percentage to .462.
“He saw fewer fastballs batting in the two-hole as opposed to batting ninth,” Cauble said. “But he was a very good No. 2. He put the ball in play, and he didn’t swing at just anything. I think he did everything he was called upon to do.”
Bridges lacks height (he’s 5-foot-9, 170 pounds) and power (zero high school homers), two things normally associated with a first baseman. But he also has assets.
He has a very slick glove. His father, Baxter, was a first baseman at Pfeiffer and schooled him early.
He also makes steady contact, striking out just six times all season.
It’s also true that lefty hitters don’t grow on trees. They’re pure gold, and Bridges is a pretty advanced hitter. He understands he has to think up-the-middle and opposite field if he’s going to be successful.
Catawba liked Bridges well enough to recruit him enthusiastically.
“Catawba really liked how nimble Kyle was at first base,” Cauble said. “He plays first base like he’s a middle infielder, and that can overcome that negative of not being very tall.”
Catawba made an offer good enough that it made it hard for the Bridges family to sleep for a couple of weeks. Kyle also had to consider the fact that Carson shortstop Gunnar Hogan, who signed with Catawba in the fall, is like a brother.
“Gunnar and I go back a long time,” Bridges said. “For a while, I really wanted Catawba to work out for that reason, but it’s not like I’m not happy about going to Lynchburg.”
Basically, Lynchburg made a lot of sense to the Bridges family financially. He’s getting a great academic package.
Not a lot of locals follow Lynchburg, which is a Division III school competing in the mostly Virginia-based Old Dominion Athletic Conference.
Member schools include outstanding academic institutions such as Emory & Henry, Washington & Lee, Hampden-Sydney and Guilford.
Lynchburg went 24-15 this season and finished second to Bridgewater in the regular season ODAC race.
“I really liked the school and the facilities when I visited up there,” Bridges said. “I stayed with Jon Wallace, and he showed me around.”
Wallace was Bridges’ teammate on the Kannapolis American Legion team last summer, although Bridges plans to play for South Rowan this year.
He’ll be good for South and may be as solid at first base defensively as anyone it has ever had.
The Carson program will still have a Bridges next season. Kyle’s younger brother, Connor, batted .400 in 25 at-bats as a sophomore. Kyle provided a good example for Connor to follow.
“Kyle’s had a high school career he can be proud of and his Dad can be proud of,” Cauble said. “It’s not like every kid gets to play college ball. Kyle has earned his chance.”