'Band of Brothers' Set for 2009 Baseball Season
The Pinecrest baseball team has four pitchers who combined for 12 victories returning from last year's co-conference championship squad that finished 19-5 overall. Also back are five regular position players.
As important as all of that experience is, Coach Jeff Hewitt feels the team's best quality is its closeness.
"We're a band of brothers," he says as he looks forward to Wednesday's 4:30 p.m. season opener at home against Lee County. "There are no cliques -- no groups ever in the corner. This group just loves being with each other."
Hewitt attributes a lot of the good chemistry to player involvement in other sports. Seventeen members of the baseball program played football last fall. Most of them attend a first period weight training class together.
The pitching staff will again be tutored by former major league pitcher James Baldwin. It compiled an amazing team ERA of 1.30 last season. It is led by senior Taylor MacDonald, the probable opening day starter, and his twin brother, Andrew. Both were 4-2 last season and earned all-league recognition after the Patriots shared first place with Richmond Senior in the Mid-Southeastern Conference with a record of 13-1.
"Taylor is 'old faithful,'" Hewitt says of the 6-foot-4 right-hander. "He's always around the plate. He's consistent and we like that. He's a three-pitch guy and he's about two miles per hour faster than last year."
Andrew MacDonald, a left-hander, is already signed to play at UNC-Pembroke next fall.
"We're challenging Andrew to be more consistent," his coach says. "When Andrew is on, he's as good in my opinion as any lefty in the state."
Filling a dual role as a starter and closer, as the graduated Chais Beloso did so successfully last year, is sophomore Dillon Maples, the team's hardest thrower. He is also the starting shortstop.
"These three guys are about as good a 1-2-3 as we've ever had in my 10 years here," says Hewitt.
Filling out the staff are senior right-hander Brian Smith, who has been very effective in the pre-season scrimmages, junior lefty Zach Christian (4-0 last season) and junior right-hander Joe Herbert.
"They all complement each other," Hewitt says. "Right now we're walking too many people trying to be too fine. Once they get that trust in the guys behind them, I think this group can be as good as any we've had."
Behind the plate again will be junior Trent Fredericks, who is expected to hit in the fifth spot. He will be backed up by senior Shane Fluet and sophomore Bailey Rush.
"Trent has made tremendous strides as a receiver," Hewitt says. "And he's a guy who is going to drive in runs for us."
Senior Joey Grady brings a left-handed bat to the first base position backed up by Herbert. Rush, another left-handed swinger, is expected to start at second base with senior Ethan Klingenschmidt, providing depth.
"Ethan has probably made more improvement than anybody we've ever had in our program," Hewitt says.
Maples, who batted .323 as a freshman, returns at shortstop. Taylor McDonald is back at third where he batted .296 with 18 RBIs in 2008. He will move to shortstop when Maples is on the mound.
Junior Ben Williams, who had a base hit in each of the scrimmages, will be at third when Taylor MacDonald pitches or moves to short. Tim Kaiser, another junior, is capable of filling in at any of the infield positions.
When he's not pitching, Andrew MacDonald, a .292 hitter a year ago with a .433 on base percentage, will reclaim his starting spot in right field and bat lead off. Jacob Gibson, a left-handed batter with speed, is expected to bat in the second slot and play left field. Last year's starter in left, James Baldwin III, will start in center. He is another batter from the left side and a base-stealing threat.
Sophomore Patrick Moore and Smith should also see duty in the outfield.
Even the work in the weight room is not likely to restore the home run power the team lost through the graduation of Beloso, Josh Haley, Lawson Thomas and Zach Pickard. That quartet combined for 14 of last year's 17 home runs.
"This group may be a little different," Hewitt says. "We're trying to feel them out. I do think this group can hit. We're going to stay positive with them."
The Pinecrest coach looks for Jack Britt, the runner-up in the summer league, to be in the thick of the conference race along with the Patriots, Richmond and Scotland County.
"Richmond and Scotland are going to be as good as they've ever been," the coach says.
Assisting Hewitt with the varsity squad again are Baldwin, Roger Woolard, Tony Kirk and Chuck Perry.
Schedule Mar. 4 Lee County; 6 Reynolds; 9 at Union Pines; 13 at Douglas Byrd; 17 Scotland; 20 at Richmond; 24 -Hoke; 25 at Lee County; 27 at Jack Britt; 31 Westover; April 1 at Chapel Hill; 3 Seventy-First; 7 at Lumberton; 9 Douglas Byrd; 11-14 Hot Stove Tournament, Greenville; 21 at Scotland; 24 -Richmond; 28 at Hoke; May 1 Jack Britt; 4 Chapel Hill; 5 at Westover; 8 at Seventy-First; 16 first round playoffs.
More like this story