By RYAN HERMAN
The Mooresville Spinners sent their first-year head coach out on a high note.
The first-year club won the Carolina-Virginia Collegiate League title on Sunday, and gave outgoing coach Phillip Loftin a championship that was long overdue.
Loftin is the club’s general manager, and pulled double duty this summer as its head coach. But the former East Lincoln High baseball standout learned how tough it is to manage both the front office and what happens on the field, and decided midway through the season that his first head coaching gig would be his last.
It’ll be one he’ll never forget.
“It was a blast. When we won –– I’d never won anything in baseball –– it was pretty special for me,” Loftin said.
“We won it, so I can go out on top now.”
But the Spinners nearly sank to the bottom.
Sitting in third place in the CVCL standings behind the Kernersville Bulldogs and the Catawba Valley Stars, Mooresville dropped five of its final six games –– all five in sequence –– and slipped two spots in the standings.
The Spinners ended the regular season with a 5-0 win over the Montreat Mountaineers –– which also ended a string of nine games in seven days –– and entered the nine-team tournament as its fifth seed.
They beat No. 4 Roanoke 12-5 in their tournament opener, then handed top-seeded Kernersville a 5-4 defeat –– they had dropped three straight to the Bulldogs –– in the semifinals to advance to face Catawba Valley in the title game on Sunday.
Hunter Voshell’s two-out RBI double in the top of the 11th and Mike Trebendis’ scoreless half-inning capped a turnaround for the ages.
“Timely hits, good pitching. Everybody just did their job,” Loftin said. “We hit a low point, then turned things around.”
Voshell is an Ohio native and Trebendis is from Fayetteville, Georgia, but a core group of Lincoln County natives made it possible for the collegiate wooden-bat team to reach the league’s top spot.
Former East Lincoln standout Danny Sullivan started at third base and hit a team-best .347, was second in total hits at 51, third in RBIs at 26, third in doubles with 12, and tied for second in home runs with two. Former Lincolnton High standout Jacob Hoover started in right field and hit .204 with two home runs and 10 RBIs. And former North Lincoln standout Justin Norton, who joined the team late following the end of Lincoln County Post 455’s legion season, tossed five solid innings for the playoff win over Kernersville. He gave up two runs, one earned, on four hits, walked two and struck out five for his only win in two starts with the club.
Also contributing this season from Lincoln County were pitchers Darin Salter (East Lincoln) and Jake Cochrane (North Lincoln), catcher J.T. Bowden (Lincolnton) and outfielder Clay Hodges (East Lincoln).
Bowden, Hodges and Norton joined the Spinners at the conclusion of the legion season, and nearly each Lincoln County native played for Loftin when he was an assistant for Post 455.
“One thing I really enjoyed about it was winning with some local kids I coached for a while. … It was nice to win with some of those guys,” Loftin said.
Loftin described being the general manager and the head coach as “a headache at times … but it was fun.”
“It’s a lot,” he said. “It gets old after a while.”
It was near the midway point when Loftin decided not to return as the Spinners’ head coach –– he will continue to be the club’s general manager, he said –– but the losing streak at the end of the regular season had him second-guessing his decision to step down.
His team turned it around, and sent him out a winner.
“Long term, it’s better for me to just step down and be the GM. I’ll definitely be getting a lot more sleep next year,” Loftin said. “Going into the end of the season, it was like, ‘Man, I do not want to go down like that.’ (Winning the championship) made it an easy decision.”
“It was one of the funnest games I’ve ever been involved with,” he added. “Especially coming out on the winning end.”
Loftin also manages and operates several youth travel baseball teams, the Dry Pond Blue Sox, and his teams will be hold tryouts for the upcoming fall showcase season this week. The 14- and 15-under teams will hold tryouts at 6:30 p.m. today at Moor Park in Mooresville, and the 16-, 17- and 18-under teams will hold tryouts at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Moor Park.
Loftin said he is looking for top-tier players who are available on the weekends September and October. Anyone interested can contact Loftin at 704-491-4112 for more information.