The North Wilkes baseball team faced its biggest challenge before the first pitch of the 2019 season.
Low numbers scratched the school’s JV team and a three-man senior class meant experience was at a premium for Head Coach Dwayne Berrier’s squad.
But despite a lack of varsity experience, the Vikings won seven games this past spring and made it to the second round of the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference tournament for the first time since 2002.
Berrier didn’t use the age of his squad as an excuse for the team’s 7-14 (and 4-10 in the MVAC) record.
“The sophomores who played this year for us would’ve been up on varsity regardless,” said Berrier, who just finished in his fourth season as head coach of the Vikings. “And having those kids up this year will hopefully be a foundation for success in the future.
“They’ve been able to see what varsity is like, and will be able to use that experience going forward.”
Berrier will miss his three seniors next spring, as Kobe Brown, Seth Kyle and Corey Dalton Miller all left their mark in Hays.
“Kobe is a kid who could play just about anywhere. And not just play — you knew he would be great at whatever spot you needed him at. In his four years here, the only spot he didn’t play was at first base,” said Berrier. “We’ll really miss his versatility.’
Kyle was entrenched at first base this spring and contributed to the cause with two doubles and nine runs batted in.
“Seth was our most dependable player. Day-in, day-out, you knew you could count on him to be there,” said Berrier. “He was very consistent. He put the bat on the ball, and he continuously made plays at first.”
Miller manned the catcher’s position this season for Berrier, after being the backup backstop last spring.
“He sat all last season backing up another kid, but Dalton worked extremely hard in the off-season and earned his spot on the field this spring,” said Berrier. “It was a great way for him to go out his senior, proving that hard work really pays off.”
Otherwise, the Vikings featured a 2019 roster that will return in 2020. That includes the one-two pitching combo of Cole Chipman and Sammy Johnston, two starters who accounted for all seven of North’s wins.
Chipman, a junior, went 5-3 with 33 strikeouts and an earned run average of 2.95. Johnston, also a junior, fanned 48 batters while going 2-5 with a 2.36 ERA.
“We have two different but equally effective pitchers,” said Berrier. “For one, Sammy’s right-handed, and Cole’s a lefty. But they both like to pitch to contact, and they both did a great job when he called on them. And Sammy would’ve had a few more wins if we had cleaned up a few balls defensively behind him.”
Berrier is also excited about another Dalton Miller, this time a sophomore, who made two starts in 2019.
“He pitched against East Surry and held them scoreless for three innings, and then held Wilkes Central scoreless through five in the second round of the conference tournament. Those are both really good hitting teams. And he’s only going to get better.”
Berrier also mentioned sophomore Jesse Farrington as a possible future fourth arm. “With more experience (Farrington pitched 8 ²⁄³ innings in 2019) and some work in the off-season, Jesse can help us on the mound. We’re looking forward to having four quality arms next spring.”
The younger Miller joined Kyle with the second-best batting average on the team at the plate, and added two doubles and seven runs. The top hitter was Nathan Childers, who batted .308 with nine RBIs, a team-high 13 runs and 11 walks. Childers, a junior, only struck out nine times and recorded three stolen bases.
Seth Hall (five runs), Caleb Souther (four RBIS, four runs), Trenton Sidden (two steals and seven walks), Matthew Holloway (two steals) and Zane Rhodes, the team’s only freshman, will also all return and will see their roles expanded next season, as well.
Berrier, who was once again assisted by coaches Andy Adams, Monty Chipman and Tony Wellborn, summarized 2019 by saying, “I was just very proud of all of them. I know 7-14 doesn’t look good on paper, and we expect to do better, but we had chances to win in just about every game.
“Now, we just have to get better at some things, like situational hitting, that are so important at this level. And that’s going to come, now that our kids are that much more comfortable in the batter’s box.”