The East Lincoln Mustangs are hoping an extra baseball season will help them improve on a 6-18 record from last season.
The dismal record was followed by all of the Mustangs playing on an East Lincoln Optimist Baseball team during the summer.
Their East Lincoln Optimist club was one game away from going to the state championship in summer optimist baseball. Mustangsâ€™ head coach Matt Neville believes that extra time spent on the diamond will translate into more wins.
â€œThatâ€™s provided us with a great deal of confidence which we did not have as a young group of athletes last year. Itâ€™s kind of like we played our season, then we played another season after that. By doing that, we were able to do a lot of things and experiment with a lot of different lineups,â€ he said.
He feels the experience his young team gained was invaluable and that the extra time makes his team more seasoned entering this year.
â€œWeâ€™re different in a lot of ways. Our seniors, as well as our juniors, have done a great job of creating a more positive baseball atmosphere. Every kid committed to myself to play summer baseball as a unit. From that experience, weâ€™ve made great strides,â€ Neville said.
â€œThe commitment these players have made to the weight room and off-season training is showing up each day,â€ he added.
Mitchell Lynch, a junior southpaw will be one of the aces on the pitching staff this year for Nevilleâ€™s team. Lynch played varsity as a sophomore last season.
â€œI expect him to play very-seasoned because all of the experience heâ€™s gotten. Heâ€™s been able to have a full season at the varsity level as a tenth-grader, so I expect him to play like a seasoned-veteran player,â€ he said.
Another player Neville has big expectations for is Grayson Schram. Schram a right-handed junior will be counted on to generate offense, lead by example and help anchor the Mustangsâ€™ pitching staff.
â€œI expect him to be an impact player. Heâ€™s capable of solidifying every position, capable of hitting anywhere from one to four on our team because his speed, power and quickness. I expect him to be, not only one of the best players on our team but in our conference,â€ Neville said.
Senior right-hander Seth Alexander is the hardest thrower on the team and was voted pitcher of the year by his peers last season. Neville will look for more of the same this season of Alexander, including him becoming a dominant closer.
â€œI look for Seth to finalize our pitching staff. I think Mitchell and Grayson will be a nice combination of starting pitching, but I look for Seth to be the enforcer of our pitching staff. Once we get in position to win, he brings us home. Iâ€™m looking for him to not only duplicate that performance but to make a run at all-conference this year,â€ he said.
One of six seniors Trent Hovis was the JV MVP his sophomore campaign named varsity MVP last season. Neville believes Hovis has a great opportunity to have a stellar year that will translate into playing at the next level.
â€œIâ€™m expecting great things out of him this year. We count on him to set the table. Heâ€™s a senior and weâ€™re hoping a positive senior season will get him some college looks,â€ he said.
East Lincoln is now 1-1 after splitting a doubleheader with Charlotte Country Day on Saturday.
In their first game of the season, leftie Lynch was spectacular pitching a complete game, compiling 10 Ks and only one walk. He was also 1-for-2 at the plate.
Schram was 1-for-3 with a stolen base. Morris had a RBI, while Cody Finger went 1-for-1 in the 1-0 victory.
In the second game, Country Day used a five-run third inning to propel them to a 7-3 win over East Lincoln. Trent Hovis homered, while Schram went 3-for-4 with one RBI and two stolen bases. Freshman Jesse Guice went 2-for-3 with a walk. Cadenhead was 1-for-3 with a RBI and a stolen base. Junior T.J. Chapman went 1-for-2 with one RBI and one walk in the losing cause. Sophomore Jesse Cadenhead suffered the loss.
Neville pulled many positives from the Mustangsâ€™ first performance.
â€œOur defense looked like a mid-season defense. Itâ€™s above par for this time of the year. Our pitching staff looked very strong, but one of the best things was we had great baseball instincts for being the first game of the year. We did a lot of good things out there,â€ he said.
Some standouts in the two games were Chapman, Cadenhead and Guice.
â€œThey were great contributors and we look forward to their development as the season goes on and hope they continue to perform at this high level,â€ Neville said.
The Mustangs will host South Iredell at 4:30 p.m. today.
by John Mark Brooks