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Prep Baseball: East Rowan preview

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

2016 record: 18-9, lost 2nd round of the 3A state playoffs.

League record: 13-5, 2nd place in the 10-team South Piedmont Conference.

Coach: Brian Hightower. 13th season at East. Record is 235-102. He’s had 10 winning seasons at East, 1 break-even season, 1 losing season. East has finished 1st or second in its league 10 of the last 11 seasons.

Strengths: Rowan County American Legion stars John Owen and Chandler Blackwelder are seniors and should be two of the county’s top players.

Question mark: East must replace its entire infield, including shortstop Ike Freeman, a .518 hitter who won the Mark Norris Memorial Award as Rowan County Player of the Year. Freeman is now a freshman at UNC.

Returning players:

• As a junior, John Owen won the Patrick Snider Memorial Award as the Rowan County Pitcher of the Year. He was 10-2 with a 1.14 ERA. He threw seven complete games and four shutouts.

Owen also is a steady hitter. He batted .287 with 14 RBIs. He’s caught some in the past, but the plan this season is for him to handle right field, second base or first base when he’s not on the mound.

• Chandler Blackwelder batted .290 with 10 RBIs as a junior, but that was before a monster American Legion summer in which he batted .369 with 24 doubles and scored 64 runs. Blackwelder will be moving from center field to shortstop for the Mustangs.

• Lefty first baseman/pitcher Hayden Setzer also was a member of the national runner-up Rowan Couny American Legion team, and the junior is a good bet for a breakout year. The 6-foot-3 brother of dynamic Catawba outfielder Luke Setzer, Hayden will be East’s No. 2 starting pitcher. He’s athletic enough to play center field, but he’s the team’s best defensive first baseman, so that’s probably where he’ll be stationed when he’s not pitching.

• Right fielder Will Brown batted .257 with 8 RBIs as a sophomore. He was 3-1 on the mound and is expected to be in a long reliever role.

• Colby Myrick is dealing with an injury (herniated disc) but will be a valuable reliever. Once he’s fully healthy, he also could be the replacement for Tanner File at second base.

•  Junior catcher Trevor Scruggs, a strong defensive player, and senior left fielder Nathan Hill were part-time starters a year ago. They combined for 14 hits and 9 RBIs.

New faces:  Sophomore Bryson Wagner will start at third base. Freshman Jake Davis is penciled in as the No. 3 starting pitcher. Junior Matthew Caldwell will get a shot at being the center fielder. Junior Corbin Moss adds mound depth.

Quote: “We’ve got to replace a lot of good guys, so we might be a jumbled mess for our first few games,” Hightower said. “But when John Owen pitches we should have a chance against anyone we play. We’ll see what we can do.”

Schedule: East is opening with two 4A opponents at Staton Field. The Mustangs play Mooresville at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and take on North Davidson on Wednesday at 5. North Davidson outfielder Austin Beck is a UNC signee and is a potential draft pick in June.

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