High school baseball: As usual, Mustangs will be tough

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Fourth in a series of high school baseball reports …

By Mike London


GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan baseball is always good and sometimes is great.

East was great by most measures in 2022 — 25-5 is an epic season for just about anyone on the planet — but South Rowan was even better. East tied South for the South Piedmont Conference championship, but eventually went 1-3 against the Raiders, the 3A state champions.

South graduated so much offense and defense with the Class of 2022 that it just about has to take a step back this season.

East graduated a generational pitcher in Cameron Padgett and subtracted a solid catcher and three big bats, but the Mustangs still return a lot. They have a talented core group. East may not take a step back.

At the very least, East should compete for another championship in the challenging SPC, and the Mustangs, led by coach Brett Hatley, have aspirations to again be one of the top teams in 3A.

“We’ve very excited about our team and the players we have, and I think we’ve got a deep lineup,” Hatley said. “Cam was Cam, but we’ve still got Chance (Mako) and a lot of good arms behind him.”

Now pitching very well as a UNC freshman, Padgett (10 wins, 0.56 ERA, 115 strikeouts) was a high school ace in every sense of the word, a two-time Rowan County Pitcher of the Year. You don’t replace a guy like that with one arm. You have to do it by committee.

Mako (8-1) was nearly as terrific as Padgett in 2022 and would have been the No. 1 guy for 99 percent of the teams in the country.

At 6-foot-6 and firing bullets, Mako is an N.C. State signee and a potential high draft pick who can overwhelm most high school hitters. It’s all about control and command for him. If he’s throwing strikes where he wants to throw them, there’s not much hitters can do — except shake their heads and walk back to the dugout.

“Mako has got incredible stuff,” Hatley said. “He should have a big season.”

Mako also has extreme power at the plate. He may not hit for a lofty average, but when he makes solid contact, there’s a pretty good chance— no pun intended — that it will leave the park. He’ll probably be stationed at first base when he doesn’t pitch. He’s a threat to lead the Mustangs — and the county — in homers.

Morgan Padgett, Cameron’s brother, will be a factor on the mound for the first time. The UNC Pembroke signee has always knocked in runs and now he’s also being counted on as the No. 2 starter. He threw very well in his first two outings this season.  Padgett’s versatility is huge for the Mustangs, as he’ll also catch or play first base.

Logan Dyer and Nate Hayworth are ballplayers first and pitchers second, but they won three varsity games apiece in 2022 as sophomores. Dyer also saved three games. They’ll get their innings, as will Dylan Valley, a senior, who like Morgan Padgett, has been waiting his turn.

Another name to know is Harrison Ailshie, a lefty who is very advanced for a freshman.

The catching crew is headed by Morgan Padgett and Joe Burleyson, with Burleyson stepping behind the plate whenever Padgett pitches.

In the middle of the diamond, the Mustangs should be about as good as anyone. East should turn a lot of double plays to help out the pitching staff.

Shortstop Cobb Hightower, an early UNC commit, was a sharp fielder and an offensive force for the Mustangs as a sophomore. He led the team in hits (45), runs (35), doubles (9) and batting average (.429). He tied  for the team lead in homers (4) and RBIs (25).

“Cobb will be making a transition from a leadoff role to being a 3-hitter this season,” Hatley said. “We’re looking for some power from him.”

Dyer, who will play second base when he’s not on the mound, also is an early college commit. He’s headed to Catawba. He does everything well and he’ll also add more power this season. Like Mako, he’s already socked a home run.

When Dyer is on the mound, Valley probably will take over at second base.

Blake Hill, a Catawba signee, is expected to hold down the third base job. A huge American Legion summer — he led Rowan County in RBIs — gave him a confidence boost, and East fans are hoping he can shine at Staton Field the way he did at Newman Park.

East’s outfield should be one of the better ones in the county and in the South Piedmont Conference.

Junior Braden Shive has electric speed, and his wheels are getting him a lot of college looks. He’s also off to a nice start with the bat.

Hayworth will be the center fielder except when he’s called on to pitch. He’s another guy who can run and is an asset offensively and defensively.

McCall Henderson gives the Mustangs another power bat.

Ailshie could work his way into the regular outfield as well.

“Ailshie is going to be one of the special ones,” Hatley predicted.

Aiden Shull gives the Mustangs another option at first base, while Whitt Hoesman provides outfield depth.

East went 1-2 on a weekend trip to Georgia that will be a good learning experience.

“I think we’re going to swing the bats well, but we got in bad counts against a good team (Greenbrier) down there,” Hatley said. “We had one of those days where we were swinging at bad pitches and taking the pitches we should have hit.”

Chances are good, the Mustangs will figure it out. They almost always do.

East Rowan at a glance

Coach: Brett Hatley (4th year, 43-9)

Players to watch: Pitcher Chance Mako, shortstop Cobb Hightower

Key loss: Pitcher Cameron Padgett

2022 record: 25-5

2023 record: 2-2

Today’s game: Home vs. North Davidson

Conference regular-season championships (22): 1962, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1975, 1982, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2021, 2022