by Aaron Garcia
For Terry Brewer, head coach for the Pineville Pioneers baseball team, not much has changed between last year – the club’s first – and this season.
“I’m too old to change much, so there’s nothing new (this season),” said Brewer, 62. “There really isn’t.”
Why should there be? Brewer’s unwillingness to change is only partly due to his age. In reality, Brewer didn’t enter this season in the Southern Collegiate Baseball League, a wooden-bat league for future and current college players, needing to revamp things. After all, last season Brewer’s Pioneers entered the playoffs as the fourth seed and hit their stride at the right time, winning the SCBL title in their first year of existence.
This season, with six games to go entering their July 16 game against the Lake Norman Copperheads, the Pioneers were 19-16 overall and sat just a half-game back of league leader Ballantyne.
“We still struggle to play really well back to back, but we’ve been fortunate enough to go on a little bit of a run and split doubleheaders and have a chance to win a nine-inning game here and there,” said Brewer.
The approach, Brewer said, has stayed the same, and it’s one the coach hopes will pay dividends again this season.
“I only have two simple rules,” said Brewer, an Independence High grad. “First, let’s have some fun and, (second), work hard enough to get better. If you do that, we’ll have a chance to win.”
The Pioneers’ pitching staff has certainly heeded the mantra. Brewer said that after starting slowly, the team’s hurlers “have gotten a lot better.”
“Some of the kids have worked hard and are throwing more strikes and giving us a chance to win,” he added.
Wingate University pitcher Matt High has led the way with a 1.15 ERA and 24 strikeouts while allowing just two earned runs for a 1-1 record with two saves. Belmont native and Appalachian State pitcher Jeff Springs is next with a 2.82 ERA (2-2 record), followed by Providence High alum Ryan McClintock, who’s recorded a 4.71 ERA with 17 strikeouts and six walks. Florida native and Belmont Abbey sophomore Paul Sterling (3-1) and Davidson senior Bryan DaCanal (3-2) each are tied for second in the league in wins. The staff has also included South Mecklenburg High products Jeff Barkley (Pfeiffer University) and Harrison Hood (South Carolina’s Francis Marion University).
The team’s hitting, however, has been consistent all season. While the Pioneers are just fifth in the league in batting with a .264 average, they’re first with 175 RBIs and second in both walks (142) and runs scored (210).
North Mecklenburg alum Anthony Domino (University of South Carolina Upstate) has recorded team highs in average (.369), RBIs (25), doubles (11) and stolen bases (12). East Meck product David Daniels (Davidson) is hitting .317 with 26 runs and 24 RBIs, while North Carolina A&T catcher Stephan Jordan is hitting .296.
Former Waxhaw Marvin Ridge standout Brett Thompson is next at .292. Charlotte Country Day alum and rising Washington & Lee University senior Jonathan Stutts also has been solid, as the shortstop is batting .261 in 11 games. The roster has also included former south Charlotte player Alex Leach, who was batting .289 through 13 games before suffering a thumb injury.
While only a smattering of players returned to the team this season from last year’s championship club, the Pioneers’ success sparked an influx of willing talent, said Chief Operating Officer and part owner Dave Collins, who added that the roster was all but set in November.
“Having had the championship, a lot of the college coaches from all over the place were calling as early as October,” said Collins.
Brewer said he’s been pleased with the feedback he’s received from the families that have hosted the out-of-town players on the roster.
“When you open your home to a total stranger, a teenaged young man, that’s a challenge,” Brewer said. “But every one of (the host families), last year and this year, have had nothing but positive things to say about the kids and the way they’ve related to the families. That tells me we’re getting the right kind of kids.”
Barkley agreed and said the goal of winning consecutive titles has spawned quick chemistry among the players.
“Team chemistry has been a big part of (our success),” said Barkley, a member of last year’s club, although his 2012 season ended a few weeks ago with a shoulder injury. “Everybody has seemed to come together well, just like last year. It’s something a team needs. Of course we’ve got high hopes for getting another ring. That’s been on everyone’s mind, to go back to back. I guess it’s a different perspective on the outcome of the season. Last year, we were a first-year team not really expecting a whole lot out of the gate, but look at what we did – we got a championship.”
Any further motivation needed has been supplied by the team’s current success, said Stutts.
“(The winning) has been great,” Stutts said. “It definitely keeps the team’s spirits up. It’s a lot of baseball, but for the most part we all love the game. Winning certainly helps keep that drive.
“We’ve really gelled as a team, partly because of the success but also because we’ve spent so much time together.”
Stutts added that although the team is preparing for another title run, the coaching staff hasn’t lost sight of the players’ ultimate goal.
“It’s a way to stay fresh, and Coach Brewer has been great about getting guys their (playing time) and understanding that, as much as we want to win, it’s also about everybody honing their skills over the summer so we can go back to school ball and really shine,” Stutts said. “It’s definitely something that helps. You can’t take enough (batting practice) to replace an at-bat where someone’s trying to strike you out.”
Collins added that the new players also were enticed by the coaching staff and the team’s environment.
“We’ve made it fun,” Collins said. “That lends itself more to guys wanting to be here than a championship.”
And that, according to seemingly everyone involved with the Pioneers, has been the key. To put it simply, the Pioneers are having fun and, as a result, they believe they stand a good chance of seeing the same results as last season.
“The kids don’t give up – that’s probably their biggest asset right now,” said Brewer, who estimated that the team has won “four or five” games after being down late entering the final inning.
“They don’t believe they can be beaten, even if they get down four or five runs. It’s fun to know going into the last inning that we’ve got a chance to still come back and win.”
Why change that?