Union Pines Baseball Looks for Success in 2009
After a rebuilding season in 2008, the Union Pines baseball team is hoping to return to the form that saw the Vikes win 20 games in 2007.
The Vikes return seven seniors and one junior from a 2008 team that went 5-9 in the Cape Fear Valley (CFV) Conference and 7-12 overall last season.
In his third year as Union Pines' head coach Chad Hill is hoping his players will take the lessons they learned in what he described "a rebuilding year," along with their intensive instructions and experiences gathered during the Viking baseball programs' first season in Central Carolina Scholastic Summer League and put them to good use this spring.
"We are optimistic that all the time and effort put in to making ourselves a more fundamentally sound and all-around better ball team will pay off. It is now up to these guys to utilize the know-how and skills they worked so hard and for so long to attain, and apply them out on the field when it counts."
The Vikings are scheduled to begin their season on the road, at 5 p.m. Monday in Siler City, against the Jordan Matthews Jets.
In his first year as head coach, Hill led the 2007 Vikings to their best season in school history. That team went 20-5 won a Cape Fear Valley Conference Championship and made to the second round of the state playoffs. His goal for this season is simple.
"We are definitely setting our sights on the playoffs," said Hill. "Every day at practice we talk about how you can't win it unless you get in the playoffs. The only thing you can ask your guys to do is work hard every day and get your foot in the door in the playoffs. From there, the first one to win six games wins it all."
Two players Hill feels have been instrumental in helping Union Pines ready for the upcoming season, are seniors Nevin Wilson and Justin Blackburn. Last year Blackburn played a stellar center field all season and after a slow offensive start, turned into a major contributor with the bat. Wilson was strong defensively as the starting shortstop and filled in well as a backup catcher in 2008, while proving to be a clutch hitter with runners in scoring position.
"They have both really came out and taken charge," Hill said, "in the fact that they are getting our varsity guys together while also taking our younger guys under their wings. The coaching staff and myself, have been really impressed with the way Wilson and Blackburn have taken the role of senior leadership to a whole new level."
Also returning for his third year at third base is senior Todd Collins. Last season he was the team fefensive MVP, consistently coming through with run-saving plays and snagging would-be hits. At the plate Collins led Union Pines with 18 RBIs and batted .383. He was also one of the team's more consistent pitchers.
Hill has a very clear idea of exactly what he feels his team's strengths are.
"We are actually pretty good defensively," he said. "We have some real strong guys starting out in the field and unlike last year, I am very confident in the guys playing behind them. Our approach at the plate is also solid. Although we are not a big power team, we are a good fundamental hitting team."
One question mark for Union Pines' revolves around pitching.
"I have about five kids that I could call my ace on any given day," Hill said. "There just has not been that one guy to step up yet."
Senior Adam Harward logged the most starts and innings for the Vikes last year. While he had flashes of brilliance he battled control problems all season. Along with Harward and Collins, Hill's other pitchers figure to be seniors Wilson and Clark Stout, and juniors Colby Thomas and Justin Thomas.
Three underclassmen have managed to catch Coach Hill's eye over the past summer and during the preseason. Freshman Nic Collins is a big lefty that hits for power and average as a catcher. Sophomores Keaton Thomas and Gabe Gonzalez are both great with the leather and possess potent speed on the base paths.
Contact F.W. Manning II by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Schedule Mar. 2 at Jordan Matthews; 5 at Northwood; 9 Pinecrest; 13 Overhills; 17 Southern Lee; 19 Asheboro; 20 at Gray's Creek; 24 Harnett Central; 27 at Triton; 31 South Johnston; April 2 East Montgomery; 3 at Western Harnett; 7 at Overhills; 11-14 at Douglas Byrd Tournament; 21 at Southern Lee; 24 Gray's Creek; 28 at Harnett Central; May 1 Triton; 5 at South Johnston; 7 Western Harnett; 16 first round playoffs; 19 second round playoffs; 22 District playoffs.
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