06/05/10 — Keefe-King tagged as coaches of the year

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Keefe-King tagged as coaches of the year

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on June 5, 2010 11:11 PM

Joey Keefe approached the 2010 baseball season as a chance to reshape the culture of a baseball program.

Jason King wanted to build on last season's success.

Keefe directed the resurrection project of turning North Duplin's program from a 6-15 ballclub a year ago to a team that finished 15-6 and reached the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-A state playoffs this spring.

King built on a Carolina 1-A Conference title and a third-round playoff appearance last season. He guided the Eagles to another conference championship and an appearance in the eastern regional championship series.

Keefe and King are the 2010 News-Argus Baseball Co-Coaches-of-the-Year.

Plagued by errors in 2009, North Duplin vastly improved its play defensively this season. Full of youth a year ago, the Rebels returned two seniors, two juniors, four sophomores and added four freshmen to the lineup this year.

"I think the biggest thing was the kids believing in themselves and cutting down on errors," said Keefe. "Last year we were still young and it was almost like us being young became an excuse. I had to tell the guys, it doesn't matter how old you are, let's just work on the little things and let's try to have a successful year.'"

North Duplin received some much-needed confidence by beginning the season 6-0 and emerging victorious in eight of its first 10 games. The Rebels improved upon a 2-8 mark in conference play from 2009 by going 6-4 in league play this season.

"I think starting 6-0 was a huge confidence booster for us," said Keefe. "The kids started looking at each other and saying, 'hey, we can make a run with this.' But, they also knew we still needed to work each day on our game."

North Duplin rallied past Southwest Onslow to reach the third round of the state playoffs for the first time since the late 1990s before falling to East Columbus. Keefe views the 2010 season as one instrumental in restoring belief into the program.

"In the past everybody was just hoping we could get into the playoffs and have a chance," said Keefe. "Now everybody's mentality is we can make it to the playoffs and we can make a run. The kids are confident and the community is confident in the team."

Rosewood was tested early with a difficult non-conference schedule and started the season 2-3. Led by six seniors, the Eagles lived to tell about their early adversity and went on a 12-game winning streak that last nearly two months and included a 10-0 mark in conference play.

"I'm a firm believer that you learn to play up to your competition," said King. "I believe it gives you an opportunity to see some of the best pitching you'll see all year and it helps you become a well-rounded baseball team."

In two years as Rosewood's head coach, King has compiled a 35-15 record, an 18-2 mark in conference play and captured back-to-back conference championships.

Like Keefe, King is confident the success his club experienced this season has paved the way for future teams to build upon a foundation that continues to get stronger.

"I told the seniors after the last game at Dixon that they set a foundation through their hard work and dedication to the team, and there's no doubt in mind eventually we'll be back right back here where we are," said King.