Prep Baseball: Carson preview
This is the first of six previews of Rowan County baseball teams.
By Ronnie Gallagher
CHINA GROVE — You could say Ethan Free is free of pressure.
The veteran Carson pitcher has already signed with Catawba and should have one of the better seasons in the North Piedmont Conference because of it.
“It helps,” Carson coach Chris Cauble said of an early signing. “Instead of trying to prove themselves and over-doing it, they throw the way they’re capable.”
Free won six games last year for the 16-9 Cougars, which lost in the second round of the 3A playoffs to Charlotte Catholic. Cauble hopes a better Free will mean a longer postseason trip through this year.
“Ethan’s a hard-throwing right-hander who has worked extremely hard to increase his velocity,” Cauble said. “His cutter is his out pitch.”
Free has plenty of mound help. Fellow senior Josh Martin and sophomore Dillon Atwell will be counted upon.
Martin, a team leader, has been a staple in the rotation since his sophomore year but it was his performance in a 1-0 playoff win over a talented Mount Pleasant team last spring that opened eyes. It propelled him into this season.
“Josh has developed into a go-to pitcher,” Cauble praised. “It doesn’t surprise me.”
Martin, a finesse hurler, was 5-3 last year with a 2.62 ERA.
Atwell came on strong as a closer for the South Rowan Legion and it should help the confidence of the sophomore right-hander.
“He’ll be the third starter,” Cauble said.
Senior righty Austin Bracewell, a submariner, came on strong late in 2011, winning a game.
“He’ll be the closer or set-up man,” Cauble said.
Youngsters could also see time including junior Blake Cauble, sophomores Colton Laws and John Daugherty, and freshmen Heath Mitchem and Matt Saul. Cauble is a lefty and the coach’s son.
“Blake will be a set up guy who can come in and face some lefty-lefty situations,” Cauble Sr. said. “I see his role increasing as his confidence develops.”
Laws, a righty, is coming off an all-county hoops season so his confidence is high. He’ll also start at first base.
“There is a tremendous upside to this young man,” Cauble said.
Daughtery is a tall, lanky right-hander who will see time on varsity and jayvee, as will Saul and Mitchem.
“As a whole, it’s the deepest pitching staff since the school opened,” Cauble said of the six-year program. “Our pitchers should keep us in every game.”
Cauble lost a load at catcher with powerful Joseph Basinger. Scottie Hinson is about Basinger’s size at 6-foot- 1, 220. The senior will battle with sophomore Bryson Prugh and junior Caleb Martin.
“Hinson’s strong point is hitting,” Cauble said. “Prugh swings a strong stick and has an above-average arm. Martin has good knowledge of the game and is a good receiver and blocker.”
At 6-5, Cauble said Laws is a “gi-normous” target at first for the infielders.
“He had a great showcase fall and was one of the better hitters,” Cauble said.
Junior Devon Peacock, coming off a terrible knee injury in football, will also play first and DH. He’s another 200-plus beast who can pound the ball. Of freshman Mitchem, Cauble added, “Don’t be surprised if he ends up in the mix.”
Replacing the graduated Kyle Youngo and his .344 average at second is senior Chase Johnson, who reminds his coach a little of Youngo.
“He’s extremely good defensively, He needs to have quality at-bats to stay in the lineup.”
John Patella and Austin McNeil will also see time there.
When Martin isn’t pitching, he’ll be at shortstop, switching over from third. He hit .329 last year.
He’s handled it well,” Cauble said of Martin’s switch from third to short. “He’s very sure-handed.”
McNeil, a talented sophomore, will play short when Martin pitches.
Cauble said Connor Bridges is very solid at third.
“I call him my throwback kid, my old-school kid,” Cauble smiled. “I love his work ethic.”
The first two hitters in the lineup will be left-fielder Dylan Carpenter and center-fielder K.J. Pressley, both juniors.
“Carpenter’s the table-setter and K.J. can move him around,” Cauble said. “Carpenter’s our speed guy.”
Pressley is a returning all-conference player who should improve on his .349 average and 15 RBIs.
“Last year was a bonus with his offensive production,” Cauble said. “This year, it’s a must.”
Six-foot-three Greg Tonnesen, who, along with Pressley, might make up one of the tallest center-right combinations in the state, is in right field.
“He’s probably got the best arm of all in the outfield,” Cauble noted. “He’s very solid defensively.”
Mitchem, Daughtery and Bradley Gardner can also play outfield.
“We’re very young,” said Cauble. “A lot of guys are coming up off jayvee and finding some who proves they can hit varsity pitching is what we’re looking for. Small-ball will be back in place.”
Even after a 7-6 loss to Northwest Cabarrus Tuesday, Cauble still has high hopes.
“I think we have a chance to be pretty good but with the new bats and unproven hitters, that will is TBD — to be determined.”