High school baseball: South hopes to contend in CCC
Published 11:33 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2020
By Mike London
South Rowan baseball
Coach: Thad Chrismon (12th season, 165-120)
Key returners: Third baseman Jack Weaver, shortstop Nathan Chrismon, second baseman Ty Hubbard, pitcher Luke Hiskey, outfielder Drew Huffman
Key lineup additions: Outfielders Kane Kepley, Jackson Deal
Key losses: Pitcher/catcher Jarrid Nelson, outfielder Andrew Jones, first baseman Bryson Bebber
2019 record: 14-11 overall, 11-7 Central Carolina Conference (tied for 4th)
Playoffs: Lost first round at North Davidson
Record last 5 seasons: 72-54
Record last 10 seasons:158-104
Conference regular-season championships (7): 1964, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1996, 2003, 2005
LANDIS — There are many good baseball programs in the Central Carolina Conference, including perennial powers North Davidson and Ledford, but some coaches think it might come down to Oak Grove and South Rowan in 2020.
South lost at Oak Grove, 6-0, on opening day, but the Raiders will look to do better in Friday’s rematch in Landis.
South graduated some good players, including Jarrid Nelson, who emerged as a pitching ace last season.
South’s hurling doesn’t appear overwhelming, but it may be good enough working with the offense and defense the Raiders have put together. South only has 13 varsity players, but it should field a lineup that is as good as anyone’s.
“I like our pitching,” said Thad Chrismon, the former UNC hurler who is in his 12th season as South’s head coach. “We’re not going to overpower you, but we’re also not going to walk many. We’ve got strike-throwers who can make you put it in play, and I think we’ve got a good defense. We shouldn’t make a lot of errors.”
Luke Hiskey won four games last season. Jack Weaver successfully closed some games. Drew Huffman and Jackson Deal haven’t thrown a lot of varsity innings, but they emerged last summer while South Rowan’s Junior Legion team was making it all the way to the state championship game. A key to the staff is going to be Nolan Eudy. The senior has been around a while but an arm issue has kept him from pitching. He’s fine now, and Chrismon sees him as a potential difference-maker. Those five will be the main arms.
“Luke took on a lot of No. 1 pitchers last year and did really well,” Chrismon said. “Huffman found a comfort zone on the mound last summer. They can all throw strikes.”
Defensively, South has a chance to be stellar at third base (Weaver), shortstop (Nathan Chrismon) and second base (Ty Hubbard). Chrismon and Hubbard are still only sophomores, but both are coach’s sons and have played a lot of baseball.
“They’ve got talent, but they’ve also got good chemistry and that helps in the middle,” Coach Chrismon said. “They’ve got a year of varsity experience now, and we’ll expect them to keep improving and to take on more of a leadership role.”
Chrismon is the stronger of the two offensively. He has a lot of speed, led the county in steals as a freshman, and is an ideal offensive catalyst. Hubbard can handle the bat and is good guy to have in the No. 2 or No. 9 hole.
Weaver is a run-producer as well as a solid glove man at third. Deal can handle third smoothly when Weaver is called on to pitch. Eudy is the most likely starter at first base, with Hunter Parrish ready to step in when Eudy pitches.
“Versatility is one of our strengths,” Coach Chrismon said. “A lot of our pitchers are position players, but we’ve got other good options at those spots.”
The catching should be fine. Drew Watkins caught whenever Nelson pitched last season, and Watkins swung the bat with authority. He’s the probable starter this year, but sophomore Jacob Ritchie has been good enough to push him. There’s a chance Watkins could play some at first, so the Raiders can get both of them in the lineup together.
There aren’t any concerns in the outfield.
Sophomore center fielder Kane Kepley is going to be a player to watch.
“He’s smart, he’s skilled, and he wasn’t overmatched by anyone at the plate as a freshman,” Coach Chrismon said. “He’s a gamer and he’s got a great baseball I.Q.”
Huffman, the football team’s quarterback, is a fast athlete and should be a .300-hitter in left field. Deal, another good athlete, figures to be the starter in right.
South has two more capable outfielders in Devin Arnette and Caleb Nesbitt. They’re certain to get some chances when Huffman or Deal is on the mound or Deal is at third base.
They’ll be patrolling a newly configured outfield. South has had unusual field dimensions for years — a short porch in left, but very deep down the line in right and in right-center.
South’s home park will be a lot more standard now. It’s going to be 322 feet down the right-field line (the old fence said 385). It’s going to be 355 to the fence in right-center now, rather than about 400.
“The wall looks really good,” Coach Chrismon said. “Red wall with black trim.”
Will South’s team look as good as the wall? The wait is almost over.
“We’re excited,” Coach Chrismon said. “We’ve got tough kids who enjoy playing with each other. It’s a good group, and we expect to be improved over last season.”
South won 11 of its 18 league games last year. That was more than respectable, but don’t be surprised if that total rises this season.
Brett Stirewalt, Grayson Miller, Brandon White and Eric Goldston are assisting Chrismon.