Setzer hoping for a smooth transition from East to Catawba

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 19, 2014

GRANITE QUARRY — Luke Setzer was asked to display his versatility one more time.
With the East Rowan media center unavailable, Setzer signed with Catawba’s baseball program outdoors — at home plate at East’s Staton Field. Sunglasses were the only adjustment Setzer had to make, a much simpler task than switching from outfielder to catcher. That’s a transition he’s performed smoothly each of the last two high school seasons.
Setzer is a talented player to be signing this late. East coach Brian Hightower and Jim Gantt, who is coaching Setzer now with the Rowan County American Legion and also will coach him in college, believe he can impact Catawba’s program.
“Luke reminds me a lot of a guy, Mario Parisi, that we graduated this year, in that he approaches every practice and every game like it’s the seventh game of the World Series,” Gantt said. “Even if Luke didn’t have any tools, his work ethic would have made him a good player. But he’s got tools. He’s got a good arm, he’s got good speed, and he’s got good power.”
Catawba lost a ton, including the starting right fielder, from a strong team that played in the Southeast Regional. The Indians’ reloading process will get a major boost locally from East pitcher Connor Johnson, Salisbury first baseman Chance Bowden — and now Setzer.
“I grew up around Luke,” said Bowden, who signed with Catawba back in the fall. “He’s a great ballplayer, and we’re going to a school where we expect to be playing for championships every year. Luke has a work ethic that’s way up there. Sure, he’s signing late, better late than never.”
Setzer’s career at East started as a jayvee second baseman. At that point, believe it or not, there weren’t a lot of positions where he could play because his arm wasn’t strong.
“I was behind a lot of the guys when I first got to East,” Setzer said. “A lot of people didn’t think I’d make it, but baseball is something I fell in love with all the way back to T-ball. I just kept working at it, and I caught up.”
Setzer’s first varsity season at East was as a junior. He batted .275, with no power, and he played out of position. He had moved to the outfield by then, but with Dustin Ritchie recovering from surgery, Hightower had to ask Setzer to spend most of the year wearing a catcher’s mask.
Setzer was on the American Legion team in 2013, but he had a limited role. He went 6-for-23 for the summer and knocked in one run.
But between his junior and senior years, Setzer made a quantum leap.
“He had a fantastic off-season,” Hightower explained. “He did a great job in the weight room and his body developed to go along with his natural talent. He got stronger and he got faster and he got better, and I knew he would play college ball somewhere.”
Setzer came as far as anyone’s ever come in one season. He was one of the top handful of prep players in the county as a senior and was on the short list of candidates for player of the year. As East’s All-SPC cleanup hitter, he batted .349 with a county-leading four homers, four triples and 23 RBIs.
His defense kept up with his offense. He was outstanding in center field, and when he had to move back to catcher after Ritchie separated a shoulder in a collision at the plate, he was good there as well.
“Luke’s arm in the outfield now is about as good as you’ll ever want to see,” Hightower said. “He runs well enough to play center — he’s 6.9 in the 60 — but he’s going to be best at Catawba in right field.”
The recruiting process moved at a turtle’s pace for Setzer.
“I just kept reminding him that I didn’t sign with Catawba myself until July,” said Hightower, who was an all-conference second baseman for the Indians. “I told Luke that to keep him from worrying, but I was starting to worry myself. He’s unselfish, a real team guy, and you wanted it to work out for him.”
Setzer’s senior breakout went unnoticed by everyone except Belmont Abbey coach Chris Anderson. Belmont Abbey made an offer, but it was still going to be expensive for Setzer to go there.
When Setzer reported for American Legion duty, Gantt saw immediately that this was a different player than the one he’d coached the previous summer.
“Coach said I’d made a big turnaround in a year and he wanted me to come to Catawba,” Setzer said. “Coach didn’t really start talking to me about it until the end of May, but it’s like a dream to get to play at Newman Park and to get to play with Chance and Connor.”
Catawba is just as expensive as Belmont Abbey. Both private schools are in the $26,000-range annually tuition-wise, and you can estimate $36,000 or more each year for total expenses.
The biggest difference for Setzer as far as Catawba is that he’ll be able to live at home. That could save $10,000 per year. Setzer said Catawba also was able to offer more academic money than the Crusaders.
“Belmont Abbey is a great school with a great coach,” Hightower said. “But I think this is the best possible scenario for Luke.”
Setzer hasn’t had many swings and misses during the current Legion season.
Rowan County has plenty of catchers and it has West Rowan’s Harrison Baucom to man center field, so Setzer has been able to play right most nights. He did fill in at second base for the first time since his jayvee days when teammate Michael Caldwell was on the shelf with a hand and wrist injury.
Offensively, Setzer has sizzled. He belted a three-run homer to key a win against Kernersville at Newman Park and swatted a grand slam and drove in seven runs in a victory at Southern Rowan. This week, he’s had a four-hit game at Mocksville and a three-hit game against Stanly County.
Setzer’s father, Scott, swears Luke was talking when he was 8 months old — and now he’s giving every Rowan County fan something to talk about.