Gators have Whitfield feeling young again
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on March 31, 2009 1:46 PM
Heath Whitfield shows up to practice everyday and suddenly he feels like a kid again. The third-year Spring Creek head baseball coach has been rejuvenated by an energetic squad short on varsity experience, but full of passion for the game.
The Gators have just six upperclassmen on their roster. The rest are a combined 10 sophomores and freshmen. And just one pitcher logged varsity playing time a year ago.
While an abundance of youth leaves Whitfield doing plenty of teaching, he also finds himself with a group eager to learn. That passion for baseball is something the program has missed in recent seasons.
"This group is fun and they love baseball," said Whitfield. "They love baseball and they love coming to practice everyday and working. A lot of them play AAU ball and they play on the weekends, and they just love it.
"For a lot of them it's their life. It's a breath of fresh air to the program because we haven't had any like that in a while. It's nice for a coach to see."
Although offense has been difficult to come by at times on the road, the Gators have shown the ability to score in bunches at home while possessing a flair for the dramatic.
Spring Creek erupted for nine runs in the home half of the fifth inning and held on for a thrilling 12-9 non-conference victory over visiting Greene Central on March 24. The Gators also exploded for big innings in home wins against Midway and South Lenoir earlier this season.
"Against Midway here, we exploded for a big inning and we ended up winning that game 11-4," said Whitfield. "Against South Lenoir here, we had a big inning that propelled us in that game, also. In home games we have had some big innings."
Paul Hayes is the lone Spring Creek pitcher with varsity experience and the right-hander has been called upon to record big outs.
Hayes tossed two scoreless innings of relief in the comeback win over Greene Central and silenced a Rams rally. Hayes -- along with fellow seniors Lucas Potter, John Mozingo and Steven Best -- will be counted on to provide leadership for Whitfield's youth-laden club.
The Gators opened their 2009 Class 1-A Carolina Conference schedule Monday against Princeton. The Bulldawgs, North Johnston and Ayden-Grifton are expected to vie for the title in the perennially top-heavy league.
Spring Creek hopes its strong non-conference start will place it among the contenders.
"We just need to build upon it," said Whitfield. "We've got to get ready for conference play and keep this momentum going. Right now we're ahead of where we thought we would be at this point, but we've got to keep going and continue this during conference play."
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