Prep Baseball: South's Matt Miller signs with Wingate

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 18, 2011

By Mike London
LANDIS — Wearing a gold Wingate T-shirt and matching cap, South Rowan pitcher Matt Miller signed with the Bulldogs’ baseball program.
“Hey, don’t misspell Miller,” one of South’s coaches cheerfully advised as Matt placed his signature on a National Letter of Intent.
Despite the verbal obstacles, Miller’s control of his pen was as flawless as his control of his sinking fastball. He got the job done one more time.
Besides Wingate, Miller seriously considered Brevard, but he was sold on the Bulldogs once they started recruiting him.
“I pitched in a tournament at Wingate this fall and threw well and their coaches saw me,” Miller said. “I got an e-mail from them, and that set up a visit. Once I went down there, I could see it was a place that fits me pretty well as a baseball player and a student.”
Miller isn’t a household name, but he could become one. The right-hander has been one of the best hurlers in the county the past two years and is getting better.
“We’re all extremely proud of how hard Matt has worked to get to this point,” South coach Thad Chrismon said. “He’s set an example for everyone in the program.”
While South hasn’t shared a baseball conference championship since 2005 and hasn’t advanced past the second round of the state playoffs since 2003, the school produces standouts. Daniel Wagner and Rudy Brown are pros. Ryan Bostian and Blake Houston are two of Catawba’s best. Maverick Miles broke a zillion records. Patrick Atwell played in the D-II College World Series.
Now the Raiders hang their hats on Miller and Eric Tyler, a talented catcher in the class of 2013.
Miller was just 4-4 last season, although it was a solid 4-4 for an 11-13 team not blessed with offense.
It’s not like Chrismon spotted Miller against the weak sisters. He lost 2-1 in the 3A playoffs to Charlotte Catholic and he lost 3-1 and 2-1 to NPC champion East Rowan. In the East game at Staton Field, Miller took a liner off an ankle — and stayed in.
His only rough outing was against Carson, and even in that one, he went the distance. That’s a good season.
“Matt exudes confidence and we were a different team when he pitched because his confidence rubbed off on everybody,” Chrismon said. “He gets after it. He thinks he’s going to win every game no matter who he pitches against. He was in a lot of dogfights, but he never once went out there thinking, ‘Uh, oh, I might lose this one.’ ”
Miller was a good varsity hurler as a sophomore, going 4-2 as South’s No. 2 starter behind Dylan Walker.
A strong American Legion season for coach Michael Lowman in the summer of 2010 — 3-0 with three saves — propelled him into his strong junior prep season. He won South’s NPC opener against West Rowan and beat a strong West Iredell team 10-2. In a victory against North Rowan, he struck out seven, walked none — and smacked a home run.
Miller’s solid offense as South’s left fielder— four homers, 15 RBIs. .333 batting average — made him one of the county’s top two-way players last spring.
It’s interesting that his hero isn’t a pitcher. He wears No. 7 as a tribute to New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, and he was a shortstop himself until he was 14.
“He’s a pretty athletic guy,” Chrismon said. “He did a good job in the outfield and he could even play some third base for us this year.”
But it’s on the mound where Chrismon wants to see Miller keep making his biggest strides.
His best pitch is a sinking fastball that rides in on right-handed hitters and induces groundballs. He’s also very confident in a slider that tails away from right-handers. When he mixes up those two pitches, right-handed hitters are guessing and chasing and can have a very long day.
“I really feel I can throw the slider now for strikes, even on 3-2 counts,” Miller said. “I’m also working on a changeup and I expect to have it ready for the season.”
Besides throwing strikes and driving in runs, Chrismon will look to Miller to be the loudest voice on the diamond besides his own.
“Matt’s always been a great lead-by-example guy, but as a senior we need him to be vocal,” Chrismon said. “He’s got his college signing out of the way now, and that’s a good thing. He can focus on having a great senior year for us.”