All-County Baseball: Graham’s impact was immediate

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 21, 2015

By Adam Houston

SALISBURY — The foundation for West Rowan’s improvement from a 13-10 season to a 20-7 season was laid in August shortly after the hiring of Seth Graham as the new head coach.

It started with a phone call from parents asking if he was interested. A week later, he was the man in charge. Fall teams for freshmen and sophomores to play games at East Rowan were set up by parents. The same was done for the juniors and seniors.

“So all I did was just focus on practicing the guys during eight-mans [workouts] during the week and then and go watch them play on the weekends,” Graham said.

The biggest impact for the Falcons came in the weight room during those fall workouts.

“He pushed us in the offseason in the weight room as much as he possibly could,” said Harrison Baucom, a senior during the 2015 season. “Stuff like that. That was a big change. We never really did that before. Once he got here, it was every Tuesday and Thursday in the weight room — just getting it.”

It was the beginning of a new culture at West Rowan.

“As far as the mental part, we talked about it in the weight room, ‘We’re not going out to out-talent anybody. We’re going to go out and outwork them,’” Graham said. “We did that early. I told the guys, ‘If we’re going to win, we’re going to win right now during the fall in October and November.’ That’s exactly what happened.”

Graham estimated West Rowan took off three days — outside of the mandatory Sunday off days — during the entire baseball season.

All of that preseason and in-season work paid off. The Falcons won 13 games against teams from the South Piedmont Conference en route to the league championship. During their 20-win season and run to the 3A state quarterfinals, the Falcons won more times than they lost in games decided by two runs or less. Graham said four of those wins were come-from-behind victories.

“It was just a totally different West Rowan this year, honestly,” said Carson’s Heath Mitchem, the Rowan County Player of the Year. “With him (Graham), they just seemed a lot more focused and intense. It was a totally different West Rowan.”

The season, however, ended with a loss in one of those close games. A walk-off home run by Marvin Ridge’s Jason Curtis ended the Falcons’ season with a 7-5 defeat.

Despite that, the bar is set higher for the Falcons.

“I heard an old coach say this when I was coaching junior college ball: ‘You want to be able to play till there is no one else left to play,’” Graham said. “That’s the goal every year. Is it feasible? I believe it is.

“It’s going to take some work and sacrifices are going to have to be made amongst the players. I think the group over there [at West Rowan], they understand [what it will take], especially watching the guys this year.”

Even though it was for only one season, Graham made an impression on Baucom, who will suit up for the Catawba Indians in spring 2016.

“[Graham is] one of the greatest coaches I’ve had coach me personally and a great guy at that,” Baucom said. “It was a pleasure playing for him.”