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www.thedigitalcourier.com/sports • The Daily Courier Sports Baseball/Softball Preview • Friday, February 28, 2014

HENRIETTA After a 2-18 season in 2013, the Chase Trojans named former player and assistant coach Tony Wall as the team’s new head coach in hopes of turning the program around. “After graduating 11 years ago, I don’t think I ever pictured myself being back here,” Wall said. “But I couldn’t be happier. I have a passion for Chase High School and this community.” Wall hopes his passion will reenergize the program. “We have really worked hard in the offseason,” he said. “Guys are starting to see if you put in that work it’s going to make a difference on the field. That’s a lesson that carries beyond baseball and into life.” Wall is confident that the new work ethic will translate into more wins on the baseball field. “Of course, we want to win more games, and I think we will,” he said. “But I’m not going to say we are going to win a certain number of games. I will promise you that there is not a team on our schedule that we won’t outwork. We aren’t the most talented team out there, but I promise we will be the hardest working. We aren’t going to accept anything less.” The Trojans aren’t devoid of talent, however. “We have a lot of depth,” Wall said. “I’ve got about six guys that can play the outfield and about the same number who can play on the infield. That

creates competition and competition makes people work harder.” The key cogs in the Trojan’s offense will be seniors Robbie Evans and Aaron Ballinger. “Robbie is kind of the quiet leader on this team,” Wall said. “He won’t hit the ball out of the park. He plays within himself and doesn’t try to do too much. He is also a great defensive player. He wants the ball hit to him at third. He wants to make the big out. I love to see that.” While Evans provides a steady bat and glove, Ballinger and others gives Chase some speed. “Everybody remembers when [Ballinger] stole home at the Easter tournament,” Wall said. “We are going to be much more aggressive this season. With guys like Ballinger, Dylan Lewis and Jack White, we have a lot of team speed and we are going to use it.” Chase also looks to excel on the mound. “We have two really good starters in Josh Epley and Ballinger,” Wall said. “They

Program Profile Mascot: Trojans Conference: South Mountain Athletic 2A/3A Head coach: Tony Wall (1st year) 2013 record: 2-18 Playoffs: None Top returners: Robbie Evans, Aaron Ballinger, Caleb Lancaster Top newcomer: Jack White On the mound Jack White

Trojans starting fresh both throw strikes and that’s good because they have a bunch of athletes behind them who can make plays.” If speed, defense and pitching all come together, Wall believes the Trojans can achieve some lofty goals. “There is no doubt in my mind that if we play to our potential, we will make the playoffs,” he said. “And if you make the playoffs in this conference with East, R-S (Central) and the Cleveland County schools, you have earned it. We will be able look back at the end of the season and see where all the hard work has brought us.”

Sophomore P/OF HT: 5’9” WT: 155

Players to watch

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Tony Wall Hometown: Forest City Alma Mater: Chase High (2003), UNC-Asheville (2007) Coaching History: Chase JV Baseball Coach (2007-13), Rutherford County Post 423 Asst. (2010-12), Gaston Post 23 Asst. (2008-09) Playing History: Chase High (1999-2003), UNCAsheville (2004-2006) Tuesday, March 11 vs. Draughn Friday, March 14 at Crest Tuesday, March 18 vs. R-S Central Thursday, March 20 vs. Polk County

At the dish Robbie Evans Senior 3B HT: 6’0” WT: 155

5-year win tracker

Head Coach Profile

Wednesday, Feb. 26 at Hunter Huss Friday, Feb. 28 vs. North Henderson Tuesday, March 4 vs. Burns Friday, March 7 at Shelby

According to his coach Tony Wall, White is a rising star in the Chase baseball program, as his speed in the outfield is only matched by that of his fastball. “He’s good,” Wall said with a grin. “He can run down a baseball in the outfield. On the mound, he’s got a great fastball. He just needs to work on location a little bit.” For his part, White knows he has a lot to offer the 2014 Trojans. “I love going after hitters with my fastball,” he said. “Once I get two strikes, I like to drop my curveball in there. It’s my out pitch. I can’t wait to be on varsity this year. I’m excited to go out there and show what this team can do.”

2014 Trojan baseball schedule

Tuesday, March 25 at Kings Mountain Friday, March 28 vs. East Burke Monday, March 31 at Union, S.C. Tuesday, April 1 at East Rutherford

Evans, a returning all-conference performer, will man the hot corner for the Trojans in 2014. Primarily a contact hitter, Evans boasted a solid .320 average at the plate in 2013, but is more focused on team success this season. “Man, we had a tough season last year,” Evans said. “I just want to be a part of this big rebound year. I think it’s going to be special.” Even with his high average at the plate, Evans’ forte is on defense. “Robbie wants the ball hit to him at third,” said Chase coach Tony Wall. “He wants to make the play and get the big out.”

Friday, April 4 at Burns Tuesday, April 8 vs. Shelby Friday, April 11 at Draughn Tuesday, April 15 vs. Crest

Thursday, April 17 at R-S Central April 21-24 Shelby Spring Break Tournament Friday, May 2 vs. Kings Mountain

Tuesday, May 6 at East Burke Thursday, May 8 vs. East Rutherford *All games start at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.

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www.thedigitalcourier.com/sports • The Daily Courier Sports Baseball/Softball Preview • Friday, February 28, 2014

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Program Profile Mascot: Cavaliers Conference: South Mountain Athletic 2A/3A Head coach: Bobby Reynolds (23rd year) 2013 record: 17-10 Playoffs: 3rd round loss to W. Lincoln, 5-3 Top returners: Tripp Hamrick, Jordan Strickland Top newcomer: Cameron Hodge

Cavaliers look for title

On the mound Tripp Hamrick

FOREST CITY Three seasons without a state championship is acceptable for your average baseball program. However, East Rutherford baseball is no average program. After winning 30 games and the 2A state title in 2010, the Cavaliers have been on a downward trend losing in the state championship series in 2011, losing in the regional round in 2012 and then losing in the third round to West Lincoln last season. Head coach Bobby Reynolds now must rebuild his pitching staff to account for the loses of Brock Helton and Brandon Wellmon. The list of suitors for those top spots is extensive. “That’s our No.1 question mark.,” Reyn-

olds said of the pitching situation. “We have about seven kids including two that are up from the JV team that are vying for those spots. Ethan Stewart and Caleb Green are competing with Tripp Hamrick, Austin Street, Marcus Ledford, Cameron Hodge and Dylan Cromer. Right now there hasn’t been a lot of separation between them. “We’re thinking that we’re not going to have just one pitcher get us through a lot of games this year.” With the questions on the mound, the Cavs may need to lean on their offense. Senior shortstop and Lenoir-Rhyne commit Hamrick will man the leadoff spot for Reynolds and set the tone for the entire season.

“Tripp Hamrick is our retuning leader/ shortstop/pitcher/leadoff hitter. He brings the most to the table with his speed and leadership,” Reynolds said. “We’re hoping he’s the spoke that turns our wheel.” Once Hamrick does his job and gets on base, senior catcher Jordan Strickland and junior third baseman John Bennett are expected to be the heavy hitters in the middle of the lineup that bring him across the plate. “To be successful we need to get Tripp on base and have those two drive him in,” Reynolds said. “They need to hit big. We need them to hit doubles and jacks because it’s not like they’re going to lug out any infield singles. They’re there for a purpose.” John Padgett will provide stability for East Rutherford at second base and in the No. 2 hole of the lineup, but from there a cast of less-familiar names take the stage. Cameron Hodge in centerfield has the potential to become a household name by the end of the season. “Defense I think will be one of our specialties,” Reynolds said. “We’ve built a good team up the middle. We can throw a Tripp Hamrick at shortstop, John Padgett at second base and Cameron Hodge, who is probably one of the best outfielders in our program, out in center.” Part-time players in 2013 like Chase Jenkins and Austin Street will become every-day players in 2014. “We lose a lot of kids but our program is programmed to where other guys come right in. Even if they sat on the bench all year they practiced just like the starters and may have even started on other teams,” Reynolds said. “When your expectations are at such a high level there’s some good players sitting. We’re hoping that Austin [Street] and Chase [Jenkins] can step in and fill a role. “It’s their time now. You’re no longer the supporting cast because you are the cast.” And with the season starting, this cast of Cavaliers is looking for another sixth state title for East Rutherford. “The expectations are always to get to the third round where it starts to become anyone’s game,” Reynolds said. “But our No. 1 expectation is to make the playoffs because you can’t win it unless you’re in it.”

Players to watch

Senior SS/P, HT: 6’0” WT: 160 Senior shortstop Tripp Hamrick will hopefully be the spoke that turns the wheel for East Rutherford baseball in 2014. That responsibility will mainly hinge on his performance as a middle infielder and leadoff man, but he is also likely to see some time on the bump. “I’ll probably pitch an inning or two here and there because the coaches can count on me to throw strikes,” Hamrick said. “If I need to be on the mound for us to win then I’ll be there.” When Hamrick takes the mound he likes to keep it simple. “I don’t throw hard but I’ll throw strikes,” he said. “I just try to keep the ball low and keep it in the park.”

At the dish John Bennett Junior 1B/3B HT: 6’0” WT: 200 Junior third basesman John Bennett enters the season as one of the East Rutherford heavy hitters along with senior cather Jordan Strickland.. “I need to drive in runs and contribute to the team,” Bennett said. After playing a significant amount of time as a sophomore in 2013, Bennett is excited to play an even bigger role in 2014. “I just need to stay focused,” Bennett said. “I’m excited about the responsibility. Ever since we were little we wanted to be here and now it’s our time.”

Head Coach Profile Bobby Reynolds Hometown: Cherryville Alma Mater: Cherryville High (1982), UNC-Wilmington (1986) Coaching History: Cherryville High School (1987-91), East Rutherford (1992-present), Gastonia Post 23 (1992-96), Cheryville Legion Post 100 (1987-91, 1997-present) Playing History: Cherryville High (1979-82), UNC-Wilmington (1983-86) Accomplishments: 5x State Champion (8 appearances), 5x American Legion State Champion

5-year win tracker

2014 Cavalier baseball schedule Wednesday, Feb. 26 at East Gaston Thursday, Feb. 27 vs. Polk County Tuesday, March 4 at Kings Mountain Thursday, March 6 vs. East Burke

Wednesday, March 12 vs. Cherryville Thursday, March 13 at Burns Monday, March 17 at Cherryville (6 p.m.)

Tuesday, March 18 vs. Shelby Thursday, March 20 at Draughn Tuesday, March 25 vs. Crest Thursday, March 27 at R-S Central

Monday, March 31 at Union, S.C. Tuesday, April 1 vs. Chase Thursday, April 3 vs. Kings Mountain Tuesday, April 8 at East Burke

Tuesday, April 15 vs. Burns Wednesday, April 16 at Shelby Monday, April 21-24 at. North Davidson, Topsail, Whiteville (Wilmington)

Tuesday, April 29 vs. Draughn Thursday, May 1 at Crest Tuesday, May 6 vs. R-S Central Thursday, May 8 at Chase

*All games start at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.

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www.thedigitalcourier.com/sports • The Daily Courier Sports Baseball/Softball Preview • Friday, February 28, 2014

RUTHERFORDTON R-S Central’s Chadd Fowler matched his best record as the Hilltoppers’ head baseball coach in 2013 with a 13-10 record. Luckily for Fowler, he has nearly the entire roster back in 2014. The Hilltoppers lost just two starters from last season, outfielder Alex Owens and catcher Tyler Morgan, but they have their entire pitching staff back and healthy. On the flip side, this team struggled at the plate last season with just one hitter, second baseman Will Owens, batting over .300. “We have pretty much the same team as last year,” Fowler said. “We feel like our strengths again are our staff and our defense. The question is still if this team can hit. We’re a year older and I hope we’re a year better.” Much like 2013, senior pitchers Conner Dailey and Dustin McEntire will head the Hilltoppers’ pitching staff with Will Owens manning the closer role. “Whoever we send out that night is our ace,” Fowler said. “Conner and Dustin threw a ton of innings along with Will Owens so we’re hoping to add a little depth. Jordan Hendrix is healthy and we have a couple other arms to add to the

Program Profile Mascot: Hilltoppers Conference: South Mountain Athletic 2A/3A Head coach: Chadd Fowler (5th year) 2013 record: 13-10 Playoffs: 1st round loss to Asheville, 5-1 Top returners: Conner Dailey, Will Owens, Dustin McEntire, Brent McCollum Top newcomers: Matt Atchley, Colton Snethen On the mound

Hilltoppers ready to hit mix.” Dailey is the flamethrower of the staff while McEntire features several pitches that pound the strike zone. “He’s just steady,” Fowler said of McEntire. “Dustin doesn’t throw real hard but he throws a lot of strikes.” The loss of Morgan moves junior Brent McCollom from the outfield to behind the plate while a host of Hilltoppers are battling for spots in the outfield. “We’re hoping for big things out of Joel McDaniel and Brent McCollum,” Fowler said. “They played as sophomores and I feel like they’ll have big years for us.” Junior Matt Atchley rode a solid JV

Dustin McEntire

season in 2013 into the starting role in centerfield on the varsity team this year while Colton Snethen is the lone sophomore on the roster. Fowler and the Hilltoppers enter a revamped South Mountain Athletic Conference that added the likes of Draughn, East Burke, Kings Mountain and Crest to an already-stacked schedule. “It’s going to be good top to bottom,” Fowler said. “We’re pretty familiar with a lot of the teams and it’s going to be a battle every night. Nobody is going unscathed in this league, that’s for sure. “We’re excited and chomping at the bit to go out there and play somebody.”

5-year win tracker Head Coach Profile Chadd Fowler

Senior 3B/P, HT: 6’2” WT: 175

Players to watch

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Hometown: Rutherfordton Alma Mater: Chase High (1999), Limestone College (2003) Coaching History: Limestone College assistant (2004-05), R-S Central (JV 2006-09, Varsity (2010-present) Playing History: Chase High (1996-99), Limestone College (2000-03)

2014 Hilltoppers baseball schedule Wednesday, Feb. 26 vs. East Henderson Friday, Feb. 28 at Bessemer City Tuesday, March 4 vs. Shelby Friday, March 7 at Draughn

Tuesday, March 11 vs. Crest Friday, March 14 at McDowell (6:30 p.m.) Tuesday, March 18 at Chase Friday, March 21 vs. Kings Mountain

Tuesday, March 25 at East Burke Thursday, March 27 vs. East Rutherford Saturday, March 29 at North Henderson (12 p.m.) Tuesday, April 1 at Burns

R-S Central returns its two big arms from 2013 in seniors Conner Dailey and Dustin McEntire. McEntire, who tossed a no-hitter in a 3-0 Hilltoppers win over Freedom last season, is expected to build on a strong junior campaign. McEntire isn’t known for his overpowering stuff, but his consistency at throwing strikes is uncanny. In his no-hitter last season he faced just 22 batters, one over the seven-inning minimum. “I’ve never been able to throw that hard but I pride myself on being able to throw accurate strikes,” he said. “I expect a lot of myself this season and even hope to hit over .300.”

At the dish Will Owens Senior 2B/P, HT: 5’10” WT: 155 All-Conference second baseman Will Owens was the lone player to bat over .300 for the Hilltoppers in 2013, and will need a comparable output this season. “I just need to be a leader and show them what I have,” Owens said of his approach in 2014. “I just go up there with the mindset that I’m going to hit the ball.” Owens has a true hitter’s mentality when he steps to the plate. “If I see runners on the bag I just want to get them in and score runs,” he said. “I love to see a first-pitch fastball right down the middle.”

Friday, April 4 at Shelby Tuesday, April 8 vs. Draughn Friday, April 11 at Crest Thursday, April 17 vs. Chase

April 22-24 vs. Trask, Topsail, Whitesville at Wilmington (TBA) Tuesday, April 29 at Kings Mountain Friday, May 2 vs. East Burke

Tuesday, May 6 at East Rutherford Friday, May 9 vs. Burns *All games start at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.

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www.thedigitalcourier.com/sports • The Daily Courier Sports Baseball/Softball Preview • Friday, February 28, 2014 put the ball in play and make things happen. Our outfielders, Cole Bennett, Tyler Mitchell and Mason Martin have tremendous speed. They are going to be able to set the table at the top of our lineup for our younger guys.” Because of their speed, however, that trio may be more dangerous on the base paths than at the plate. “Any team I have is going to run a little, but with the speed this team has, we are going to run a lot,” White said. “We are going to run until somebody stops us. We Fresh set of Gryphons for aren’t going to have people 2014 step up and knock it out of the park because McNair “It should be a little easier for us,” White Field is so big, but we can play small ball said. “Last year we were facing pitchers and speed is a big part of that. It is also night in and night out that were just as an advantage for us on defense, because good as the 3A pitchers I saw at R-S those guys can go get some fly balls in (Central). This should be more even for a big outfield. There won’t be many that us. drop.” “There are some perennial powers, but I TJCA will test out that speed against the think we can get a good playoff spot and Southern Piedmont Conference (SPC) maybe a home game. We will just have to after moving from the Western Highlands. wait and see how it goes.”

YOUNG GUNS

4-year win tracker

Head Coach Profile

*2010 was first NCHSAA season

Chris White Hometown: Cliffside Alma Mater: R-S Central (1988), Gardner-Webb (1994) Coaching history: Chase (1995-2003), R-S Central (2005-09), Thomas Jefferson (2010-present), American Legion Post 423 (1993-97, 1999-2001)  Playing history: Four-year letterman at R-S Central,One year at Limestone College, Three years at Gardner-Webb Accomplishments: 4x Conference Coach of the Year, 2008 Region 8 Coach of the Year, 2008 Conference Champion Wednesday, Feb. 26 vs. Queen’s Grant (5 p.m.) Monday, March 3 vs. WCCA Wednesday, March 5 vs. Mitchell Friday, March 7 vs. Lincoln Charter

Program Profile Mascot: Gryphons Conference: Southern Piedmont 1A Head coach: Chris White (5th year) 2013 record: 8-11-1 Playoffs: 1st round loss to Elkin, 3-1 Top returner: Mason Martin OF Top newcomers: Brandon Riggs, Zac Parks On the mound Zac Parks Senior P, HT: 5’10” WT: 130

Players to watch

AVONDALE The Thomas Jefferson baseball team has made the playoffs each of the last three seasons. Doing so for a fourth will be a challenge. The Gryphons lost six of eight position players from last year’s squad, in addition to ace pitcher Caleb Bishop. But head coach Chris White isn’t worried. “We did lose a lot, but we have a lot of talented guys coming up,” he said. “We have some good arms and some good sticks. We are young with only two seniors, but we will be ok.” Priority No. 1 for the Gryphons will be rebuilding their pitching staff. “Every time Caleb Bishop was on the mound you could count on a complete game with him giving up five runs or less,” White said. “We may not have that, but Zac Parks and Brandon Riggs have good fastballs but they don’t have a lot of experience. The big key for them is just to throw strikes. Zane Jackson and Stephen Moss are going to give us some depth, but I don’t know if it will be enough to cover what Caleb gave us.” With question marks surrounding the pitching staff, the Gryphons expect their offense to carry them in 2014. “I can tell you one thing, we can swing the bats,” White said. “We are going to

2014 Gryphons baseball schedule

Parks has the unenviable task of trying to replace four year starter and former Gryphon ace Caleb Bishop “Caleb was a great pitcher,” Parks said. “I can’t replace him. All I can do is my best job.” 2014 marks Parks’ first full season on the varsity level. He has a lively fastball and a power curveball that will make him a valuable asset to the Gryphons staff. “My best pitch is my fastball, but I throw my curveball when I want to get people out,” he said. “I want to help the team make the playoffs. That’s our goal, but the main thing is to work hard all the time and have fun playing baseball.”

At the dish Mason Martin Senior OF, HT: 6’0” WT: 190 Martin is one of two returning position players for Thomas Jefferson. He will help patrol the cavernous outfield at McNair, along with fellow speedsters Cole Bennett and Tyler Mitchell. “We have a fast outfield,” Martin said. “Having those two guys flanking me really helps. Sometimes I think we are too fast.” Martin will also look to set the table for the Gryphons’ offense from the leadoff spot. He excelled in that role last season, posting a .375 batting average and a .453 on base percentage. “My job as a leadoff hitter is to get on base anyway I can,” he said. “I’ve got to get the runs going. It’s one of the most pressure filled jobs in baseball.”

Tuesday, April 1 at Lincoln Charter Friday, April 4 at Highland Tech Tuesday, April 8 vs. Bessemer City Friday, April 11 vs. Pine Lake Prep Wednesday, April 23 vs. Asheville School

Tuesday, March 11 vs. Highland Tech Thursday, March 13 at Bessemer City Tuesday, March 18 at Pine Lake Prep Friday, March 21 vs. CSD Tuesday, March 25 vs. Cherryville

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Friday, April 25 at CSD Monday, April 28 at Woodruff Tuesday, April 29 at Cherryville Thursday, May 1 at Mitchell *All games start at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.

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www.thedigitalcourier.com/sports • The Daily Courier Sports Baseball/Softball Preview • Friday, February 28, 2014

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www.thedigitalcourier.com/sports • The Daily Courier Sports Baseball/Softball Preview • Friday, February 28, 2014

HENRIETTA The Chase softball team has a storied past and its future looks bright as well. Over the past four seasons, the Lady Trojans have compiled an impressive 41-14 (.745) record and three conference titles. The 2014 season is shaping up to be just as impressive. Chase returns its top three hitters, Devyn Gowen (.492), Ashley Brown (.460), and Dakota Reid (.475 ) that will look to batter opponents into submission. Couple that with the fact that Reid returns to the circle with a solid 2.68 ERA, and head coach Daniel Bailey has reason to smile. “We are going to be loaded,” he said. “Not only do we have those three coming back, we have a wealth of young talent coming up. Now they are going to perform is some big situations and fill some big shoes. It’s going to take hard work, but the talent is there.” Bailey is hesitant to single out an individual newcomer or returning player, however. “They are freshman,” he said. “There are so many spots to fill and we really haven’t evaluated them that much. So much can happen. It’s all about the team. I can tell you this, though. Everybody on this team, whether they are a freshman or a senior, they are going to work hard.” “One of the reasons we had a down year last season (11-6) is because we had a sense of entitlement,” Bailey continued. “We felt like just because we had won in

Program Profile Mascot: Lady Trojans Conference: South Mountain Athletic 2A/3A Head coach: Daniel Bailey (15th year) 2013 record: 11-6 Playoffs: 1st round loss to Brevard, 6-3 Top returners: Devyn Gowan, Dakota Reid and Ashley Brown Top newcomer: Maggie Robbins On the mound Dakota Reid Junior P

2014 Lady Trojans: LOADED the past, we should win again and that didn’t happen. You can’t live in the past. You have to stay hungry and this team is hungry.” Chase will look to unleash that appetite on a new-look conference that includes perennial powers, East Rutherford, R-S Central, Crest and Kings Mountain. “This conference is much better than last year,” Bailey said. “Last year was a little bit to- heavy. This year is balanced from top to bottom. We can be beat in any

given game if we are not on the top of our game.” If the Lady Trojans are on the top of their game, Bailey feels a conference title is well within reach. “We have been on the threshold every year, and won it for three years,” he said. “Last year we didn’t win because we didn’t work hard enough. Honestly, we didn’t deserve to win. This year, I think we have gotten over that. We are ready to work hard again and see how far that takes us.”

5-year win tracker

Head Coach Profile

Players to watch

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Daniel Bailey Hometown: Forest City Alma Mater: Chase High (1995), Gardner-Webb (1998) Coaching history: Head Softball Coach (2000-present) Playing History: Chase football, basketball and baseball (1991-1995), Gardner-Webb football (1995 -1998) Accomplishments: 2x conference softball coach of the year, 3x conference champion

Reid excels at the plate and in the circle for the Lady Trojans. Her .475 batting average was second on the team, but her true value was as a pitcher last season. She was the only Chase player with any appreciable pitching stats in 2013, garnering 11 wins in 17 appearances. Reid also posted a 2.68 ERA in 170 innings pitched. “Pitchers are the ones who control the game,” Reid said.” If you are pitching a good game, you bring your team up. If you pitch a bad game, you bring your team down. That’s why you have to try your best every time you step on the field.”

At the dish Devyn Gowan Senior 1B/3B Gowan is the only senior on the Chase roster. She hit for power and average in 2013, registering 12 doubles, two homers, and 20 RBIs to go with a .492 batting average. She is hoping for a repeat performance in 2014. “Being the only senior is kind of weird,” Gowan said. “Usually there are a few more. I still think we are going to do great this year and hopefully I can do even better than last year ” In addition to her experience and offense, Gowan also gives the Lady Trojans an outstanding defender at the corner infield spots. “I love playing on the corners,” she said. “You take some hot shots, but I would not want to play anywhere else.” Gowan hopes to take her hitting and defense deep into the post season.

2014 Lady Trojans softball schedule Tuesday, April 1 at East Rutherford Friday, April 4 at Burns (6 p.m.) Wednesday, April 9 vs. Shelby Friday, April 11 at Draughn (6 p.m.) Tuesday, April 15

Tuesday, March 18 vs. R-S Central Tuesday, March 25 at Kings Mountain (6 p.m.) Wednesday, March 26 at Stuart Cramer Friday, March 28 vs. East Burke

Lady Cavs poised for success FOREST CITY It isn’t often that a team comes into a season with a new coach after winning its conference the previous season, but East Rutherford softball is doing just that. First-year head coach and East Rutherford alum Laura Hopper is the new skipper for the Lady Cavaliers in 2014. Hopper spent 2013 as an assistant under Julie Powell but has inherited a wealth of talent as she undertakes her first head-coaching venture. “I’m just excited to be here,” Hopper said. “It’s always nice to come back after playing ball in college.”

This group that won 16 games in 2013 before losing to Pisgah in the third round of the state playoffs includes Raven Gray, Savannah Davis and Jenna Carter. “That brings a lot of comfort to my job,” Hopper said. “When you have big names like Raven Gray, Jenna Carter and Savannah Davis out here it makes your job a lot easier.” Gray, the reigning 2A Softball Player of the Year for western North Carolina by the N.C. High School Softball Coaches Association, is expected to lead the team once again with her speed as well as her feel for the game. “Having Raven and her speed is always a

great factor,” Hopper said. “I love having her on the field with her knowledge. She can see things on the field that I can’t see from the dugout. Having a player with that vision is awesome.” The only loss from last year’s conference-winning team was pitcher Klinnon Carson. Senior Savannah Davis now becomes the staff ace for the Lady Cavs. “Savannah has grown and matured a lot,” Hopper said. “Her confidence will play a key role. The heart of your mound is the heart of your team so we have to keep that strong.” Hopper also has a young group of players, led by Gray’s younger sister Jordan and Carson’s younger sister, Jori Whitesides, that are expected to make immediate impacts on the varsity level. “I expect to see good things out of this team. We have some great athletes with great potential,” Hopper said. “Their attitudes are excellent. I’ve never seen a group of girls with such good attitudes. That makes it easy to coach them.” Considering the numerous strengths of this group, another conference title might be in store for the red and black. “Early in workouts I thought that keeping runs off the board would be our strength, but now that we’ve got to hitting the ball I think we’ll score plenty runs,” Hopper said. “We’re looking strong.”

5-year win tracker

Head Coach Profile Laura Hopper Hometown: Ellenboro Alma Mater: East Rutherford (2009), North Greenville (2012) Coaching History: East Rutherford (Assistant 2013) Playing History: East Rutherford (2006-09), North Greenville (2009-12)

*Home games start at 4 p.m.

vs. Crest Thursday, April 17 at R-S Central Friday, May 2 vs. Kings Mountain Tuesday, May 6 at East Burke (6 p.m.) Friday, May 9 vs. East Rutherford

Program Profile Mascot: Lady Cavaliers Conference: South Mountain Athletic 2A/3A Head coach: Laura Hopper (1st year) 2013 record: 16-6 Playoffs: 3rd round loss to Pisgah, 1-0 Top returners: Raven Gray, Savannah Davis, Jenna Carter, Emily Dotson Top newcomers: Jordan Gray, Jori Whitesides On the mound Savannah Davis Senior P/1B

Players to watch

Tuesday, March 4 vs. Burns Friday, March 7 at Shelby (6 p.m.) Tuesday, March 11 vs. Draughn Friday, March 14 at Crest (6 p.m.)

Senior right-hander Savannah Davis was the No. 2 pitcher for East Rutherford last season behind Klinnon Carson. But Carson has graduated and moved on, so it’s Davis’ time to man the circle for the Lady Cavs. “I have to be a leader this season,” Davis said. “I can’t get down on myself. If I can stay up that’ll help the girls stay up.” If Davis is a year older and a year better, that could spell trouble for opposing batters. “My favorite pitch is my curveball,” Davis said. “I like to use it to get ahead in the count.”

At the dish Jenna Carter Senior 3B Raven Gray provides the lightning speed at the top of the order for East Rutherford, but Jenna Carter provides the thunder in the meat of the order. “I really like coming to the plate and seeing the bases loaded,” Carter said. “I like knowing that a good hit can score us some runs.” Carter knows that the Lady Cavs lost just one senior from last season’s conference championship team and looks forward to another successful season. “I’m really excited because we should have a pretty good team,” she said.

2014 Lady Cavaliers softball schedule Thursday, Feb. 27 vs. Fed T. Ford Tuesday, March 4 at Kings Mountain (6 p.m.) Friday, March 7 vs. East Burke

Saturday, March 8 at Stuart Cramer Tuesday, March 11 at McDowell Friday, March 14 at Burns Tuesday, March 18 vs. Shelby

Friday, March 21 at Draughn (6 p.m.) Tuesday, March 25 vs. Crest Wednesday, March 26 at North Lincoln

Friday, March 28 at R-S Central Tuesday, April 1 vs. Chase Friday, April 4 vs. Kings Mountain Tuesday, April 8 at East Burke

Thursday, April 10 vs. McDowell Tuesday, April 15 vs. Burns Thursday, April 17 at Shelby Tuesday, April 29 vs. Draughn

Friday, May 2 at Crest Tuesday, May 6 vs. R-S Central Thursday, May 8 at Chase *Home games start at 4 p.m.


www.thedigitalcourier.com/sports • The Daily Courier Sports Baseball/Softball Preview • Friday, February 28, 2014 support his Lady Hilltoppers can provide for Crain. “That seems to be our nemesis,” Digh said of the team’s offensive output. “We’ll just keep working on it and play some small ball down towards the bottom of the lineup. Our first five or six hitters are pretty good and should drive in some runs for us but we’ll probably have to manufacture a few here and there.” R-S Central’s biggest bat will be swung by senior Makalya Crawford. Crawford, who spent all of 2013 at shortstop, could see some time behind the plate with the departure of Brandy Whitener. “I’m not sure where she’ll play,” Digh said. “But I’m looking for her to have a good season and be a leader. She has the potential to be a .400-plus hitter.” Newcomer Brooke Moore is also expected to provide an immediate impact at the plate for the Lady Hilltoppers.

Program Profile Mascot: Lady Hilltoppers Conference: South Mountain Athletic 2A/3A Head coach: Melvin Digh (8th year) 2013 record: 8-13 Playoffs: 1st round loss to Fred T. Foard, 2-1 Top returners: Makayla Crain, Makayla Crawford Top newcomers: Brooke Moore

Lady Hilltoppers set high expectations ace pitcher over the past two seasons, Makayla Crain, is back for her senior year. “Makayla Crain will definitely have to eat up some innings,” Digh said. “Taylor Beam (a junior) has thrown a little bit in the past but we’re looking at her as our backup arm. She’s a lot like Shelby Smith last year who could come in, take a little off the ball and give a different look.” Given Crain’s experience on the mound, Digh has a good idea of what to expect from the senior right-hander. However, Digh is slightly uncertain of the run-

5-year win tracker

Head Coach Profile Melvin Digh

On the mound Makayla Crain Senior P/3B

Players to watch

RUTHERFORDTON After back-to-back seasons of 15 wins in 2009 and 2010, R-S Central softball has won just 23 games combined over the past three seasons. Head coach Melvin Digh, in his eighth season at the helm, has high hopes for 2014’s group of Lady Hilltoppers. “I’d like to think that we can finish in the top three of the conference,” Digh said. “We have a full 23-game schedule so it’s going to be a long season. I hope we can string some wins together and play more consistent than the past few years.” Digh has the comfort of knowing that his

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Hometown: Forest City Alma Mater: Chase High (2000), Limestone College (2004) Coaching History: Chase High (JV baseball 2005), R-S Central (Asst. 2006, Head coach 2007-present) Playing History: Chase High (1997-2000), Limestone College (2001-04) Accomplishments: 2x Conference Champion

Makayla Crain understands her job on the Lady Hilltoppers softball team, and that’s to pitch — every day. Crain, an All-State selection her sophomore season is expected to eat up serious inning in her senior campaign. “I feel like everyone is depending on me throughout the whole year, but I love it,” Crain said. “I’ve been doing it since I was 8 and I just enjoy it. “You just have to know what pitches are working on that day and keep using them.”

At the dish Makayla Crawford Senior SS/C If there’s a vocal leader on the R-S Central Lady Hilltoppers softball team, it’s senior shortstop Makayla Crawford. “I feel like I need to lead the team and do the best I can,” Crawford said. “In the past years I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself so this year I hope to relax more and let things go.” Crawford understands her role as a team leader doesn’t end with her performance at the plate. “I just want to help the team as much as I can and practice hard,” she said.

2014 Lady Hilltoppers softball schedule Tuesday, March 4 vs. Shelby Friday, March 7 at Draughn Monday, March 10 vs. North Henderson (4 p.m.) Tuesday, March 11 vs. Crest

Thursday, March 13 at West Henderson (4 p.m.) Tuesday, March 18 at Chase Friday, March 21 vs. Kings Mountain Tuesday, March 25 at East Burke (5pm)

Friday, March 28 vs. East Rutherford Monday, March 31 vs. Asheville Tuesday, April 1 at Burns (6 p.m.) Friday, April 4 at Shelby (6 p.m.)

Jump-starting a program AVONDALE First-year Thomas Jefferson assistant softball coach Joanie McCraw and her Gryphons have the two things every team needs to be successful, pitching and defense. She hopes to use those tools to jump-start a program that only has one conference win in its history. “As long as you have pitching and defense in high school softball, you are going to win some games,” McCraw said. “I think this team is ready to turn a corner.” Helping TJCA to turn that corner will be sophomore pitcher Brianna Kale who returns to the circle for the Lady Gryphons in 2014. Freshman hurler Emily Allred

will provide much needed depth at the position. “Most teams only have one talented pitcher. We have two,” McCraw said. “The good thing is, they are both excellent shortstops. So we will have one pitching and the other playing behind her on defense. I’m excited about that.” TJCA boasts strong defense at the other infield positions as well. “Isis and Asia Wilson are going to anchor the corners,” McCraw said. ”They seem to squeeze everything that’s hit to them. They are young players. I’m excited for this season and the future.” A team cannot win by pitching and defense alone, however, they have to score

runs, too. “Our best pitchers and defenders are our best hitters, too,” McCraw said. “The Wilson sisters have really been pounding the ball to all fields. You can tell that they have put in a lot of practice during the offseason. “The two pitchers, they are just athletes. They are going to be heavy hitters on this team, but I think that’s a good problem to have. I don’t see them having any issue switching gears between pitching and hitting. They are consistent at both.” McCraw will need consistency from all her players to be successful in the Southern Piedmont Conference. “There are some established teams like Bessemer City and Cherryville and then there are teams that aren’t,” McCraw said. “The good thing is we have experience on this team because these girls have been playing together on travel ball teams. We are not having to start with the basics anymore. We are ready to compete on more of a varsity level this year. That’s a huge plus and will help when we get into conference play.” McCraw hopes that experience will result in a record-setting season for the Lady Gryphons. “I expect to win some games this year as long as we leave all the drama at home and concentrate on winning softball games,’ McCraw said.

4-year win tracker

Head Coach Profile

Hometown: Forest City Alma Mater: Chase High (1996) Coaching History: Thomas Jefferson (Asst. football 2010-present, wrestling 2010-present, golf (2011-present), Chase High (Asst. football 1998-2010) Playing History: Chase High (football and track, 1992-96)

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Friday, May 2 vs. East Burke Tuesday, May 6 at East Rutherford Friday, May 9 vs. Burns *Home games start at 4 p.m.

Brianna Kale Sophomore P Kale returns to the circle in 2014 for the Lady Gryphons. Even though the team only won two games last season, Kale believes strong pitching and another year of experience will produce improvement on the field. “Last year, adjusting to high school softball was tough,” Kale said. “Girls were older and bigger than me. This year, I can tell that I’m stronger and I’ve added some more pitches. Hopefully, that means more wins.” Kale will also have a solid defense behind her this season. “A good defense is everything for a pitcher,” she said. “A pitcher can’t do everything. It’s important to have a good infield and outfield and we have that.” Kale is productive at the plate, but prefers to pitch. “I’m a left-handed batter, but I like to pitch better,” she said. “When I’m pitching, I just focus on the catcher. When I’m batting, there is so much more to think about.”

At the dish Emily Allred Freshman SS/P

*2010 was first NCHSAA season

Jamie Hicks

Tuesday, April 8 vs. Draughn Wednesday, April 9 at Crest Thursday, April 17 vs. Chase Tuesday, April 29 at Kings Mountain (6 p.m.)

Program Profile Mascot: Lady Gryphons Conference: Southern Piedmont 1A Head coach: Jamie Hicks (1st year) 2013 record: 3-15 Playoffs: None Top returner: Brianna Kale Top newcomers: Emily Allred On the mound

Players to watch

Thursday, Feb. 27 at North Henderson (4 p.m.) Friday, Feb. 28 vs. West Henderson (4 p.m.) Monday, March 3 at Patton

Allred is the other half of TJCA’s highly-anticipated pitching duo, but she feels more comfortable at shortstop than in the circle. “Playing shortstop is my favorite,” Allred said. “I like getting in front of balls and trying to make as many plays as I can.” She expects the rigors of high school softball to be much tougher than middle school. “I think it will be a lot harder,” she said. “But I’m excited to get out there and show my skills and show what I can do.”

2014 Lady Gryphons softball schedule Thursday, Feb. 27 vs. Hendersonville Wednesday, March 5 vs. Mitchell Friday, March 7 vs. Lincoln Charter Tuesday, march 11 vs. Highland Tech

Thursday, March 13 at Bessemer City Tuesday, March 18 at Pine Lake Prep Friday, March 21 vs. CSD Tuesday, March 25 vs. Cherryville

Friday, March 28 vs. WCAA Tuesday, April 1 at Lincoln Charter Friday, April 4 at Highland Tech Tuesday, April 8 vs. Bessemer City

Friday, April 11 vs. Pine Lake Prep Friday, April 25 at CSD Tuesday, April 29 at Cherryville


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www.thedigitalcourier.com/sports â&#x20AC;¢ The Daily Courier Sports Baseball/Softball Preview â&#x20AC;¢ Friday, February 28, 2014

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