Baseball season begins today for all four Lincoln County teams, and the East Lincoln Mustangs have a hard task ahead of them after last yearâ€™s regional runner-up season.
The Mustangs finished the season at 24-8, wrapped up a third of the conference championship, alongside West Lincoln and Cherryville, and advanced farther in the playoffs than any other Southern Piedmont Conference 2A team.
East Lincoln graduated four seniors from that team â€” Clayton Dellinger, Parker Hills, Brandon Brownlow and Jake Carter, four All-Conference players in 2011 and 2010â€™s SPC Player of the Year in Hills. Dellinger, Hills and Brownlow were all integral parts of the Mustang pitching staff and Carter was a serious threat at the plate.
â€œWe knew coming in pitching might be a struggle because we graduated our big three arms in Brownlow, Dellinger and Hills last year,â€ East Lincoln head coach Chris Matile said. â€œWe have David Keener, a left-hander who won three playoff games for us last year, and junior Darin Salter will see some time. Keener and Salter will be our main starters, and a couple of other guys will fill in as relievers. Itâ€™s definitely our weakest point; itâ€™s something weâ€™ll have to play around with. We may pitch by committee this year and throw three or four arms per game. The pitcher who goes out there and throws strikes is the one thatâ€™s going to be in the game.â€
Matile said the success of last yearâ€™s team was still fresh in everyoneâ€™s mind, but that this yearâ€™s squad is well aware that nothing is given.
â€œWe know weâ€™re not the 2011 team, we have to make our own way, but we need to learn from that team what it took to get there,â€ he said. â€œIt took hard work, dedication and commitment. We use it as a plus, but we remind ourselves that weâ€™re not going to just roll onto the field and win games because of what we did last year.â€
The Mustangs open the season today at home against Bandys at 4:30 p.m., followed by games against Forestview on Wednesday and last yearâ€™s 3A state champion, South Point on Thursday. Matile said he scheduled a tough nonconference run for a reason.
â€œI want to face good teams that play the game the right way, and teams that have some talent,â€ he said. â€œWe want our kids to see what else is out there, we donâ€™t want to go out there and see some teams that we can hammer away at and build some false hope. We want to see where weâ€™re at and see what we need to improve on. You win, you lose, itâ€™s not a big deal, itâ€™s seeing what we can improve on.â€
Matile said he expected a tight Southern Piedmont Conference race again in 2012.
â€œYou never know coming in,â€ he said. â€œI know that West Lincoln has a lot returning and North Lincoln probably returns the most out of all of the teams. Lincolnton has a very stout pitching staff, and if you have stout pitching staff you have a chance to make a good run. Cherryville is always going to be there. Weâ€™re going to put ourselves in the best position to be there at the end.â€