It was an up and down kind of season for the Wilkes Central baseball program.
There were highs (winning eight-straight games and reaching the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference tournament finals for the fourth-straight year) and there were lows (dropping games to Ashe County and West Wilkes on back-to-back nights).
But despite having a number of nonconference games cancelled due to bad weather, Head Coach Terry Johnson feels that the highs have outweighed the lows.
The Eagles only played five nonconference games this spring.
“I think we’ve learned through adversity that we’re a pretty good ball club even though we’ve lost a few and that’s a lot about this bunch of kids; they’ve battled some adversity all year,” said Johnson. “We started out the season with some injuries and some bad things but everything fell into place.”
One of the keys to Wilkes Central’s 17-7 record was a wealth of pitching.
Prior to the start of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs, nine different Eagles have made at least one appearance this spring. And of those nine, seven of them made at least one start.
Senior Ethan Adams made a bulk of the starts (seven) while fellow seniors Noah Johnson and Skylar Brooks, who returned to the lineup this spring after missing most of last season due to injury, also made multiple starts.
“I think our seniors are starting to show some leadership and starting to get the younger kids to follow and we’re starting to do things that we’ve done well in the past,” said Terry Johnson.
All four senior Eagles saw time on the mound. C.J. Clements, who played most of the year in right field when Adams pitched, tossed six shutout innings against North Iredell on March 14.
Brooks and juniors Aiken Minton and Colby Lakey all collected saves.
When they aren’t pitching, Minton has seen time at shortstop (before sustaining an injury late in the season) and Lakey primarily played first base.
“Our pitchers have pitched extremely well; when that’s happening and your hitters are hitting it well and your catchers catching great, throwing runners out, good things happen,” said Johnson. “We’re putting the bat on the ball really well right now. Doing a lot of backside baseball with runners in scoring position and just hitting the ball when we need to hit it.”
Brooks and Noah Johnson, who have traded batting in the leadoff spot throughout the spring, have seen time at multiple defensive positions.
Brooks, an East Carolina signee, played at shortstop, and more recently catcher, while Johnson played second base, and moved to shortstop but regardless of where they are on the field, Terry Johnson knows what he’s getting with both players.
“Noah and Skylar have continued to hit the ball well and they’ve been big for us in the one and two spots, getting on base and allowing other guys to drive them in or Skylar driving Noah in because Noah’s really aggressive on the bases,” said Johnson.
Throughout the spring, Johnson shuffled players around multiple positions based off the Eagles’ needs.
While junior Hayden Dice was a staple in center field this season, three other juniors — Landon Perry, Hunter Johnson and Nick Hartley — played multiple positions.
After starting the year in the outfield, Terry Johnson feels that Perry found a home at third base. Hunter Johnson started the year at third base (and pitched some) but transitioned to second base while serving as Central’s cleanup hitter.
“I think throughout our lineup, I think we’ve got positive things. Hunter’s been doing his thing, Landon’s coming around with his bat and playing a great third base for us,” said Terry Johnson. “We’ve put him there after dealing with a bunch of injuries and he’s been doing a great job there and as long as he keeps doing that, we’re going to leave him there. We’ve had to play musical chairs with a few of our position players.”
Hartley spent a bulk of the season behind the plate but also saw time in left field.
“Nick’s been trying his best to do what we’ve asked of him and go backside with his hitting and done a good job with our pitchers,” said Terry Johnson. “I thought he did a really good job behind the plate when they had runners on and the possibility of scoring, blocked some good balls for us and he’s going to have to do that for us again next year.”
Sophomore Jonah Brooks, who was sidelined with some injuries near the end of the season, served primarily as the designated hitter but also pitched and played some first base.
Sophomore Zach Mastin has split time between the JV and varsity squads this spring, as have freshmen Weston Inscore, Brody Johnson and Daniel James, who started a handful of games in left field late in the season.
“We had to put a young kid (James) in the outfield because of injury but he was capable of playing out there, just like I thought he could,” said Johnson.
The Eagles advanced to the second round of the NCHSAA 2A playoffs, defeating Rutherfordton-Spindale Central in the first round. Central lost to North Lincoln, which is currently in the 2A Western Regional finals, in the second round.