Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 3, 2013

CHINA GROVE — The temperatures were in the 40s Saturday afternoon. The wind was whipping. There were snow flurries. It made you realize that winter sports were still going on and you should stay indoors.
So what was Carson doing? Playing baseball outdoors in miserable conditions.
When you have to dress like you’re walking across the frozen tundra just to watch a ballgame, you know prep baseball starts way too early.
Sometimes, however, the schedule makes you forget about the cold.
It’s supposed to be frigid tonight — 32 degrees — but in China Grove, the season will heat up. What’s happening will have baseball fans ignoring the weather.
Carson plays host to its biggest rival, East Rowan. The game was moved from Tuesday because of a threat of rain.
Carson coach Chris Cauble has never defeated East since taking over the Cougars. Most think this is the year that Carson beats East … and, well, everyone else. The Cougars, who are already 3-0, are loaded.
Cauble knows about expectations. When he took West Rowan to the state championship series a few years ago, everyone just assumed the Falcons would win.
“It’s enjoyable,” he said of the high expectations, “but it comes with tons of pressure as well. Whether you’re good or not, you still have to perform, especially in baseball. In high school, a lot depends on your pitching.”

There’s little doubt Carson has the county’s two best hurlers in Dillon Atwell, the returning Pitcher of the Year in the county, and Colton Laws, a 6-foot-6 fireballer whose mound presence is intimidating, to say the least.
Atwell is throwing 83-85 mph and works both sides of the plate. Laws throws up to 88.
“The way those two threw at the end of the year, we’ve got 1A and 1B to go to,” Cauble smiled.
Carson rode those arms late, dominating game after game.
The Cougars were 10-9 at one time, then went on a nine-game win streak before losing in the third round of the playoffs to eventual state champ Weddington, 2-1.
Six of those nine wins were shutouts, all won by Atwell (7-2) and Laws (4-0). In the playoffs, Atwell shut out Parkwood 5-0 on a five-hitter. Laws then whipped Northwest Cabarrus 1-0. Atwell was stunning heavy favorite Weddington until a 2-run homer in the bottom of the sixth sent Carson home.
For the record, Carson recorded 11 shutouts last season.
“The kids rallied behind them,” Cauble said.
How good is Carson’s pitching? We haven’t even mentioned crafty Blake Cauble, or last year’s diaper dandy Heath Mitchem. T.J. Brackett and John Daugherty have already had their moments in the young season.
“It’s the best I’ve coached as a whole staff,” Cauble said.
But it’s not just pitching, as Carson will try to prove tonight. Bryson Prugh is a returning all-county catcher. Kaison Denton, who has grown to 6-feet, could be a starter for anyone.
A formidable infield, including Connor Bridges, Austin McNeill and John Patella, is solid.
As much as the pitching staff may excite the Cougar fans, Cauble says not to forget about arguably the county’s best outfield. All three starters — K.J. Pressley, Dylan Carpenter and Greg Tonnesen — return.
“Our depth at pitching and outfield is unreal,” Cauble said.

Could the Cougars be this year’s version of Weddington? Cauble says Atwell hasn’t forgotten that loss and the 6-1 righty has worked hard to muscle up.
“He has thought about that since last year,” Cauble said. “Our returning starters saw how close we were to doing something special. Weddington finished off everybody easily after us. As long as we stay healthy — that’s a big key to our success.”
Another key is getting past East Rowan.Mustang coach Brian Hightower has waved some kind of magic wand over Carson since the school opened.
We can talk about Carson’s shutouts last year, but what happened when the Cougars played East?
They were shut out twice, first 1-0 in eight innings, and later, 2-0.
Neither Atwell or Laws pitched in the losses. Expect one of them to be on the mound tonight in China Grove.
It’s going to be cold.

But you know what? No real Rowan County baseball fan cares.
It’s Carson vs. East Rowan.

And that’s worth bundling up for.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or