High school baseball: East Rowan has the talent to make a run
Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 27, 2022
First in a series of baseball previews.
By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — Everyone knows there’s going to be some shutouts, maybe some no-hitters, at Staton Field.
East Rowan baseball has the arms.
Senior UNC signee Cameron Padgett, 5-0 and untouchable last spring, is the reigning Rowan County Pitcher of the Year. Junior Chance Mako, a 6-foot-6 N.C. State commit, won four games. He racked up honors in the off-season for his work with the South Charlotte Panthers.
Who’s No. 1 and who’s No. 2 doesn’t matter much. It’s one heck of a 1-2 punch either way.
Behind the two All-State candidates, East is grooming a half-dozen or so promising arms. Head coach Brett Hatley, who will finally get to coach a full season, just has to figure out who to send out there for those non-conference games. None of them will have varsity hurling experience, but Hatley is confident they can do the job.
“With Padgett and Mako, we shouldn’t give up a bunch of runs,” Hatley said. “We should have a good chance whenever they go out there. We just have to play good defense behind them and back them up with some offense. We need to hit better with runners in scoring position this year.
Much was expected of the Mustangs in 2021.
They delivered on part of their potential in a shortened season that began very late because of COVID. East shared first place in the North Piedmont Conference with Carson, and the Mustangs won the NPC tournament.
The bad news was East lost a home playoff game against Sun Valley in the second round. In the one-and-done playoffs, anyone can knock you off, and Sun Valley played well that night.
“It was such a short season,” Hatley said. “We never had a chance to figure everything out. We had to jump right in there and play. This year will be different. Well be able to try some things. We’ll be able to take a look at some guys.”
What wasn’t talked about a lot last year was how young East was.
Looking at the 2022 Mustangs, the only 2021 graduate they can’t replace is Jake Hunter, who is pitching now for East Carolina.
Basically, the offense is back.
That includes four all-county or all-conference players in slugging left fielder Aiden Schenck, shortstop Charles “Cobb” Hightower, second baseman Austin Fulk and outfielder Griffin Warden.
Schenck, conference player of the year for the NPC, will swing a big lefty bat in the middle of the lineup. He hit .469 with 18 RBIs.
Shortstop Hightower and second baseman Fulk are solid defenders who can swing the bats with gap power. Fulk hit .383, while Hightower batted .380. Warden is a strong defensive center fielder and batted. 390.
Padgett is a solid contact hitter, while Mako offers the potential for a three-run homer every time he walks up there. When they don’t pitch, they are good enough athletes to handle one of the infield corners.
Senior Tristan Miller will be an important player again. He returns as the starting catcher and is strong defensively. East used the DH in his spot in the batting order in 2021, but he showed during the American Legion summer that he’s capable of contributing to the offense.
Morgan Padgett, Cameron’s younger brother, batted .317 with 16 RBIs, as the primary DH, and he’s also a pitcher. He’s the most likely catcher if Miller needs a rest.
Jaxon Trexler started in right field last season and batted .476 as the No. 9 man in the lineup.
First baseman Jacob Causey, who played Legion ball, got some at-bats last season.
There are numerous new faces, including seniors Ryan Rutherford and Hunter Campbell, junior Dylan Valley and sophomores Blake Hill, Logan Dyer, McCall Henderson, Nate Hayworth and Braden Shive. Some of those new faces will provide the pitching depth.
“It’s great to have a full roster (of 18) again,” Hatley said. “You can only play nine at a time, but guys will get their opportunities. We’ve got a lot of competition for spots, and that’s a good thing. We’re deeper than we’ve been and faster than we’ve been. We’ve got more options. We can ride the guys who are swinging it the best.”
If the Mustangs can score three runs, they should win most seven-inning games.
But East’s new league, the South Piedmont Conference, includes three other talented Rowan squads, stout Cabarrus teams and a capable crew from Lake Norman Charter. There won’t be many easy games in the league.
It should be a sensational baseball conference, one of the best in 3A. It’s unlikely anyone will go undefeated.
East Rowan at a glance
Coach: Brett Hatley (3rd year, 18-4)
Players to watch: Pitchers Cameron Padgett and Chance Mako, outfielder Aiden Schenck, shortstop Cobb Hightower
Key loss: Pitcher Jake Hunter
2021 record: 13-3
Opener: Tuesday, March 1 (home vs. North Davidson)
Conference regular-season championships (21): 1962, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1975, 1982, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2021