The Charlotte Christian baseball program has had more than its fair share of success over the years, both on individual and team levels. But this season, one year removed from claiming its 11th Class 3A private-school state championship, there are good reasons to believe more accomplishments are on the horizon.
The Knights return their entire starting infield from last year’s championship team, and have at least four players who’ll add to the nearly 60 former Knights who’ve moved on to play college baseball since 1995.
Several former Knights have gone on to play professional baseball, including Daniel Bard (Boston Red Sox organization), Paul Bennett (Atlanta Braves), Chris Carrara (N.Y. Yankees), Reid Fronk (Tampa Bay Rays), Ty Linton (Arizona Diamondbacks), Michael Grant (Cincinnati Reds) and Luke Bard (Tampa Bay).
Now, after transferring from Hough High last year, senior right-hander Bailey Ober is on the fast track to finding his place near the top of Knights’ lore, according to coach Greg Simmons, who guided Christian to its 10th state title under his watch a season ago.
“He has incredible poise,” Simmons said of Ober. “He has a plan, and he sticks with it. He works hard and he isn’t overwhelmed when he gets out there. I think having a plan and not just going out there and throwing as hard as he can is what sets him apart from a lot of other high school kids.
“He doesn’t just go out there and throw, he has great command of three pitches and he can throw them all for strikes. He throws as hard as he needs to. In his last few outings his last pitch of the game mirrored his fastest pitch, and that’s after throwing 70-80 pitches already. Not a lot of high school kids can, or are willing to, do that.”
The 6-foot-8 Ober, who earlier this year signed with the College of Charleston after being courted by the likes of N.C. State and Appalachian State, among others, said he’s pleased with how his career as a Knight has gone so far and has packed on 20 pounds since last season to increase his durability.
“He tries to get ahead of batters so he can be in control,” Simmons said. “He wants to do what he needs to do, like get ahead and execute. He also has an incredible ability to hit his spots, has great movement and probably has the best changeup of any high school kid I’ve ever seen. He’s not afraid to pitch backwards and he’ll throw any pitch in any count.”
Ober threw a no-hitter last March and parlayed that early-season gem into a dominating season. He finished the year 10-1 and posted an ERA of 1.00 while striking out 80 batters, many of whom he left bewildered with a devastating changeup – which Ober calls his best pitch – that seems unfair coming from a player whose fastball routinely touches 90 miles per hour on the radar gun.
And he culminated his dominating rookie season in dramatic fashion, hurling a complete-game, two-hit shutout in the Knights’ 2-1 victory over High Point Wesleyan Christian in last season’s state championship, during which he also struck out eight batters.
Even with Ober (who plays first base when he’s not pitching) and the team’s other returning starters, there have been some adjustments to make this season, as only Wingate commit Patrick Haynes rejoined Ober on the pitching staff.
“I feel like we’re starting to hit our groove,” Ober said. “Last year still feels good and makes us want to go out and fight harder. This year is a little different with all of the new guys coming up from JV and learning their roles on a high level, but it’s been exciting to see.”
Simmons said Ober has lived up to his billing as the No. 1 pitcher and has been instrumental in mentoring the Knights’ young hurlers, who’ve learned a lot from the ace of the staff.
“The guys look up to him – figuratively and literally,” Simmons said. “He works hard and he’s a great guy in the classroom, there’s never any issues with him and he’s a kid of really high character.”
While Ober has been a great leader in the clubhouse, he’s led the way on the field, as well.
On the season, the senior is 4-0 with a mind-blowing 0.56 ERA in seven starts. He’s struck out a staggering 67 batters while walking just four and allowing a paltry three earned runs in 39 1/3 innings of work.
But Ober thinks his best is yet to come.
“I think I’ve done pretty well but I don’t know if I’ve peaked yet,” he said. “I don’t have that one start that I thought was my best one of the year, and I don’t think I’ve hit my spots as well as I’ve wanted to.”
While Ober says he hasn’t yet reached his full potential this season on the mound, he said he feels the Knights made great strides by winning the Sunshine Classic in Florida in late March by sweeping four games. Before departing for the tournament, the Knights had lost to Charlotte Country Day on March 19, but haven’t lost a game since.
“Once we started winning (in Florida), we got a little more comfortable and started playing way better as a team,” Ober said.
The Knights also boast exhibition wins over Class 4A public-school powers South Mecklenburg and Providence and were leading Ardrey Kell before rain
washed out the game in the fourth inning.
As of April 17, they find themselves 18-4 overall and 6-1 in the Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association, a league they’ve won 14 of the past 15 seasons, dating back to 1998.
“We’re playing well right now,” Simmons said. “But we try to take it one game at a time. I tell the guys that the most important game is the one right now.”
With Ober shining on the mound and at the plate, where he’s hit .286 while driving in 10 RBIs, the Knights are clicking. But the senior ace is far from the only
player enjoying individual success.
Shortstop Nick Owens (team-high .368 batting average, 13 runs, one home run, 15 RBIs), outfielder Reece Hampton (.364, 12 runs), catcher/first baseman Garrett Bradbury (.353, two home runs, 12 RBIs), third baseman and Lees-McRrae University recruit Matt Simmons (.333, two home runs, 15 RBIs) and outfielder Matthew Burt (.321, nine RBIs) have been among Christian’s more consistent players.
As balanced as the Knights’ offensive attack is, Simmons knows that down the stretch of the regular season, and especially in the postseason, pitching and defense come to the forefront of any championship team’s success. And so far the Knights have excelled in both areas.
“We need to keep not making errors,” Ober said. “Our defense this year has been outstanding. Last year we struggled a little bit, but this year we’re playing good defense and capitalizing on other teams’ mistakes.”
With the Knights’ defense shining, and their ace pitcher keeping runners off the base paths, Christian may have the formula needed to repeat as state champions. While that hardly is a foregone conclusion, beating the Knights when Ober is on the mound is a daunting task for any team looking to knock Christian from its perch.
But with or without another state championship, Simmons is pretty set on where his star right-hander ranks in Charlotte Christian’s baseball pantheon.
“We’ve been very blessed to have great players and a rich tradition,” Simmons said. “Bailey is certainly one of those guys. He’ll be a guy that we talk about because he should be close to, or break, our strikeout record and he sits right there in line with a lot of the guys before him.
“As far as his performances goes, he’s as good as there is in the town and he’s one that we’ll remember here for a long time.”