Prep baseball: Rimer Coach of the Year
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Aaron Rimer enjoyed his share of perfect days swinging a bat for North Rowan, the Rowan County American Legion team and Catawba, and now he’s 1-for-1 as a head coach.
A rookie in the pilot’s seat, Rimer guided North to its strongest season and longest playoff run since 2000 and is the Post’s choice for Rowan County Coach of the Year.
Everyone figured North had a chance to improve in its second year of 1A competition, but a 22-7 record after consecutive seasons of 4-17, 5-16 and 10-15 was a sweeter turnaround than expected.
After falling to East Surry in extra innings in the third round of the 1A playoffs, the Cavaliers finished one win shy of the school record.
Rimer’s baseball philosophy is heavily influenced by two men — Bill Kesler, who coached him at North and advised him in the dugout this season, and Jim Gantt, who coached Rimer at Catawba and in Legion ball.
“I used to think Gantt was crazy, but I guess I’m getting more and more like him every day,” Rimer said with a laugh. “When I played for Gantt, the practices were so hard they made the games easy. I tried to put a lot of pressure on our guys in practice. Maybe that paid off some for us.”
North had a lot of pitching, a lot of speed and a lot of hitters, but it also had those things in 2010.
The difference in 2011 was partly that those guys were a year older, wiser and better and partly that Rimer brought unusual fire and competitiveness to the ball field, not just on game nights but every practice.
“I don’t know that we worked on hitting, pitching and defense any more than anyone else, but we concentrated a whole lot on doing the little things, having good mental approaches on every at-bat and having an understanding of what to do in situations,” Rimer said.
Rimer gives a lot of credit for North’s success to assistants Kesler and Jason Sparger.
“Jason coming on board to help with the pitchers was huge,” Rimer said. “It was like we had three head coaches in the dugout, but with no egos. It’s nice to be coach of the year, but it should be the coaching staff of the year.”
Rimer’s biggest challenge was convincing the Cavaliers that they really were good, and he handled that chore with non-stop positive thinking.
Once confidence bloomed, North was a handful. It started the YVC season 2-2 but finished 14-2 and shared the YVC title with South Stanly.
South Stanly ended the year as state runner-up, but North beat the Rebel Bulls twice in three meetings, including a tournament showdown for the league’s No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
“In the playoffs, we had a real tough loss to East Surry, but one-and-done is the playoff system that we have,” Rimer said. “It didn’t make it any easier for me to sleep at night when South Stanly made it to the championship series.”
There were weak teams in the Cavaliers’ league, but there also were strong ones. Rimer believes that any one of four YVC clubs — Albemarle and North Moore were the other two — could have made a run at a ring with the right draw and good bounces.
Rimer said the final piece of the puzzle for the Cavaliers was permanently switching the positions of Wesley Barker (third base) and Alex Morgan (catcher) at midseason. With that move, North’s defense meshed and became a worthy companion to a devastating offense that hit a collective .381 and a strong, deep pitching staff that compiled a 2.94 ERA.
North got productive offensive seasons from veterans Barker, Matt Mauldin, Dakota Brown, Matt Laurens, Hunter Feezor, Mason Jennings and Jake Smith as well as Morgan and Tyler Wyatt, newcomers to the program.
North graduates 10 seniors, including pitchers Brown, Laurens, Dusty Agner and Josh Price, so it’s going to be rebuilding time in Spencer in 2012.
At least, that’s how it looks on paper. Rimer is thinking more along the lines of reloading, the way East Rowan seems to do annually.
“It’s not going to be easy because we have to find some pitching,” he said. But our guys know what they have to do in the offseason.”