Vikes Start CCSSL Season Monday
This summer, the Union Pines' Viking baseball program will be participating in the Central Carolina Scholastic Summer League (CCSSL).
The Vikes' and head coach Chad Hill decided to join the rapidly growing CCSSL instead of competing in the American Junior Legion baseball program over the summer.
Hill said the CCSSL has both its upsides and downsides, but the positives far outweigh any negatives.
"I like the league because I get the chance to work with most of the kids that will be playing ball for me at Union Pines next year," said Hill. "The only aspect I don't like is that the league follows high school rules. We just went through a dead period with school being out and we have had to do eight-man work outs the whole time, whereas Legion ball had its own set of rules, independent of the school, which allowed for much more flexibility during that stretch."
However, Hill thinks the CCSSL will help the Viking baseball program because it gives rising ninth-graders the chance to participate. As a result Union Pines will field two teams: a Senior (varsity) squad and a Junior (jayvee) squad.
"I have 10 rising freshman that will be playing on the team," Hill said. "This will give them an excellent opportunity to become acclimated to our coaching styles, 90-foot bases, and 3-foot mounds a year early. I think that it will be a definite advantage for those guys to play 15 games with us, because when the spring season rolls around next year they will almost be sophomores for all intents and purposes, experience-wise, even though they will actually be freshmen."
In a rebuilding year, the 2008 Vikings went 8-13 on the year and 5-7 in the Cape Fear Valley Conference. The team lost some solid talent in the way of six seniors, including team captain and Catawba Football signee, right fielder Cole Parris; all-conference and Southeastern C.C. baseball signee, Peyton Martin; and two-year starting catcher Chris Holt.
Hill will be looking for rising senior Todd Collins to be the leader for the Viking team this summer. Collins led Union Pines in several offensive categories his junior year and was named the team's most valuable defensive player.
"Varsity-wise this league will let me gain a firmer grasp of who will be playing what going into the fall season," Hill said, "and be able to really work them at those positions and know what we can expect out of them."
Hill is really excited to be able to field two Union Pines teams
"The younger guys will be able to get ample playing time as will the varsity players," Hill said, "because they will not have to split any playing time with the rising freshman. It is good for the coaches because we get the chance to see the kids get a lot of reps and it is a great opportunity for them because they are getting more reps than they would have in years past."
Hill said that rising senior Adam Harward should get a good deal of innings over the summer. In his 2008 campaign, Harward pitched the most innings for Union Pines (27) going 2-3 with an ERA of 9.00, while collecting 32 strikeouts and allowing 18 walks.
"We are going to work on some things with Adam over the summer," Hill said. "Hopefully he will be able to give us a lot of solid innings come next year."
Hill is also looking for shortstop Nevin Wilson and outfielder Terry Burge to do some fine-tuning and prepare themselves to give the Vikes some veteran leadership in the clubhouse, dugout and on the field come this fall season.
One rising ninth-grader that Hill has his eyes on is Todd Collins' younger brother, Nic. A solid catcher with a strong bat, N. Collins will start the year on the Vikes' Junior team, but could possibly move up to the varsity team by the end of summer.
Hill said one aspect he will focus on with his team this year is bunting.
"We have to become a better bunting team," he said. "We don't have a lot of power and I believe any good hitter is first a good bunter, so I think we all have to learn how to lay a bunt down, be it a sacrifice or a drag."
In terms of pitching, Hill feels his team needs to improve on closing hitters out.
"We have to be able to close out hitters," he said. "We have to able to get that third strike across whether it's a groundball out or a strikeout. Last season we did a great job of getting ahead of batters, but now we have to learn how to consistently finish those at-bats by getting the hitter out."
Hill said when it comes down to it, that the CCSSL is similar to regular high school summer school.
"Before the game you have to do your homework to prepare to play," he said, "during the game you have to implement what you have learned and be thinking about what the coach has been talking about and then at the end of the night you go back and get your review of how you played and how the team played. You carry it on to the next day and make adjustments. So it is kind of clich, but it really is like summer school baseball."
Although the CCSSL is really an equivalent in some ways to spring training in Major League Baseball, with the focus being on player development, there is a championship at stake come summer's end. There are 45 total teams in the league spread out over seven divisions.
After the regular season is completed, the two-top teams from each division take part in a tournament that lasts through the end of July with an eventual championship game. The league will also offer a day of showcase games for college recruiters and pro scouts. There will be no tournament for the junior teams as has been the case in previous years.
The Vikings are in the Southwest league along with Pinecrest, Richmond Senior, Terry Sanford, Pine Forest, Southern Lee and Overhills.
Hill's goal for the Vikings is to make sure they are competitive in every game.
"We are in a pretty tough league," said Hill, "A majority of the teams (Pinecrest, Richmond Terry Sanford and Pine Forest) are 4-A clubs. Southern Lee is 3-A, but they won our conference. We lost by the 10-run rule in a few games this year and I want us to be competitive from the first through the seventh (inning) and not look at the name on the (opposing team's) jersey. Being in a tough conference this summer will hopefully help us get over that hump of not so much playing up or down to the level of our competition, but rather bring it each night, playing our game and being consistent."
The Viking Junior and Senior baseball teams will open the CCSSL season Monday at Union Pines.
The Vikings will be playing doubleheaders on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. All Junior games are scheduled for 5 p.m. Senior games follow directly after, starting around 7 to 7:30 p.m. Union Pines' first four games of the summer are all at home.
The Junior team will get the season started Monday against Scotland in a non-division contest. In the nightcap, the Union Pines Senior squad will face Raleigh Private School in another non-division affair.
More like this story