Prep baseball: South inexperienced, but the Raiders always win their share
LAST SEASON: 18-11 overall, 12-6 (4th place, South Piedmont Conference)
THIS SEASON: 10-team 2A Central Carolina Conference, South has started 2-0
COACH: Thad Chrismon (10th year, 143-96)
By Mike London
LANDIS — As South Rowan’s enrollment dropped and many of the school’s athletic programs plunged, the Raiders’ baseball team always held its own.
South put together six straight winning seasons as it ended its run as a 3A school. The Raiders finished either third or fourth in their league each of the last eight seasons and made the state playoffs every time.
Now South plays as a 2A program for the first time ever, as a new member of what should be a tremendous 2A baseball league. There is little doubt Ledford and North Davidson will be at the top of the 10-team conference, but South has a chance to continue in its familiar role as a competitive, third or fourth-place squad.
“We’re inexperienced, so the one thing I’m sure of is that we’ll be better in the second half of this season than the first half,” said South coach Thad Chrismon, who starred as a relief pitcher for UNC from 1992-95.
South’s head coach is its most famous guy. The team’s most recognizable players in 2017 — Walker Joyce, Austin Chrismon, Tyler Shepherd, Dillon Norton, Dawson Larrimore — are all gone.
“We don’t have any big names,” Chrismon said. “We’ll have to be scrappy and we’ll have to be gritty, and we’ll have to depend on each other.”
That’s a familiar formula for South, which really hasn’t had a feared-by-everyone guy on the roster since catcher Eric Tyler in 2013.
Matt Donohue, who pitched a complete game in last year’s Easter tournament against Lake Norman, is South’s most experienced pitcher and projects as the ace of the staff. He won a big game against West Rowan last season.
Jaxon Miller, who got innings last season in relief, is No. 2.
After that, Zach Powers, Jarrid Nelson, Kory Moss, Eli Hiskey and Dylan Milam will get their chances.
Donohue and Miller provided strong starts as South opened the season with a pair of tough CCC wins over East Davidson. Nelson won a game in relief of Donohue. Moss picked up a save.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve actually got a rotation right now,” Chrismon said. “We’ll play three games a week and some weeks we’ll have three conference games. We’ll just have to mix and match with our pitching and see how it goes. The state-mandated rules as far as pitch counts make it a challenge, but those pitch-count rules might actually work to our advantage. We don’t have big strikeout guys. We’ve got pitch-to-contact guys.”
South hurlers may not be blowing anyone away, but Chrismon has crafted effective staffs in the past from control pitchers who can locate, work ahead in the count and keep the ball down.
Nelson will be South’s primary catcher. He has a good track record as a hitter. When Nelson pitches, Sammy Kincaid will put on the catching gear.
South’s infield isn’t very settled. That’s primarily because many of the infielders are pitchers. The infield alignment will depend on who is hurling at any given moment.
Logan Jordan and Garrett Harrington are the third basemen. Hiskey probably will be the shortstop when he’s not pitching. When Hiskey pitches, Miller will be the shortstop. Miller, Harrington and Bryson Bebber are the second basemen, Harrington, Powers and Bebber can play first base,
“A lot of our guys are versatile,” Chrismon said. “They’re comfortable moving around.”
South’s outfield will be built around junior center fielder Andrew Jones, who has a fine baseball name, especially for a center fielder.
“He’s very athletic, runs well, and I love his approach at the plate,” Chrismon said.
South’s ballpark has a huge right field that basically requires a second center fielder to patrol it. Chrismon likes Moss in right field.
Bebber is penciled in as the regular left fielder. Donohue and athletic Isiah Wade also will be part of the outfield equation.
As far as generating runs with a largely inexperienced lineup, that’s going to be South’s biggest challenge.
Jones figures to be the leadoff man, to maximize the number of at-bats he gets. He can swing it and won’t necessarily be looking to see a lot of pitches. Nelson and Bebber also figure to be top-of-the-order guys. Harrington, a big guy, is a potential cleanup hitter.
“We’ll be a work in progress,” Chrismon said. “I don’t know where this team will end up or how good we can be, but the journey is always pretty fun.”
For South, the baseball journey usually turns out surprisingly good. The Raiders’ average season over the last eight years is 17-10.
South’s future is bright. The jayvee team, coached by former Raider and Pfeiffer Falcon Dylan Goodman, is unusually strong. There’s also a talented eighth-grade group in the pipeline.
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