07/21/11 — Wayne County state preview

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Wayne County state preview

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on July 21, 2011 1:47 PM

Baseball has undoubtedly meant a great deal to folks in Wayne County the past few decades.

Area programs have produced numerous standouts on the high school, college and professional scenes. And many of those players donned a uniform for Wayne County Post 11, which has unarguably been one of the state's elite Senior American Legion programs as well.

The latest edition of Post 11 players will continue that tradition Friday when the 2011 N.C. Senior American Legion baseball tournament begins on the Crystal Coast. Wayne County (25-5 overall) meets Rowan County at 10 a.m. at Puck O'Neil Field inside Big Rock Stadium.

In other games: High Point (21-8) faces Area I runner-up Cary (22-8) at 1 p.m., Area II champion Wilmington (29-6) opposes Hickory (20-11) at 4:30 p.m. and perennial Area IV power Cherryville (26-7) takes on tournament host Morehead City (15-6) in the nightcap.

The double-elimination tournament concludes Tuesday with the winner advancing to the Southeast Regional in Sumter, S.C. Daily admission is $10 and tournament passes are $25.

Area III has produced the last three state champions -- Randolph County (2008), Rowan (2009) and Kernersville (2010). Rowan and Kernersville finished third and fifth, respectively, in the 2009 and 2010 American Legion World Series appearances.

Wayne County is making its sixth trip to the state tournament since it switched to a single-site format in 2000. Post 11 has emerged the state runner-up on five occasions, including 2007 when it lost to Cherryville with then-head coach Brad Reaves.

"We've been rolling pretty good for about two or three weeks now," said second-year Wayne County head coach Rob Watt. "The only hiccup we had was at Kinston and we had won a few in a row before losing then."

Post 11 has beaten all eight of its playoff opponents and has won 25 games in a season for the first time in nearly a decade. Watt's team has outscored the opposition 305-176 and allowed just six runs defensively in the last 18 innings.

Eleven batters are hitting .300 or better.

Jonathan Taylor is batting .456 and is just one of four players in the team's 30-20 club (30 hits, 20 RBI) this season. Taylor and Collin DuBose share the team's home-run lead with three apiece.

Adron Hollowell has a team-best 37 hits, followed by Tyler Farmer with 36. Southern Wayne teammates Cody Davis and Kevin Wise have driven home 26 and 25 runs, respectively.

"When one guy starts hitting, we certainly get on a roll," said Watt.

Defense, however, has been Wayne County's Achilles' heel. The team has committed 71 errors and surrendered 85 unearned runs in 230 innings of action. Watt's team managed to survive seven-error outings against Wilson and Pitt County, but realizes mistakes have to be minimal to extend the season into August.

"If we can play good defense, we can play with any team in this tournament," said Watt.

Wayne County's pitching staff has shaved more than three runs off its team earned run average (ERA) since the beginning of the season. The 10-member bullpen has a collective 3.56 ERA, with Cameron Taylor (1.28) and Jordan Quinn (2.73) leading the way.

Taylor and Quinn each have six decisions this season.

"Cameron has been good from day one ... has been our most-solid guy," said Watt. "That's not a stretch (of the truth), but a fact. He's in a comfort zone right now. He trusts himself and when he's not getting punchouts, he's getting bat contact.

"The defense likes to play behind him because he throws a lot of strikes, he keeps a good tempo and there are not a lot heavy feet on the infield and outfield when he's out there (on the rubber)."

Wayne County looks to break a three-game skid in the state tournament, including an eight-run defeat against Rowan in 2008.

"It's not going to get easier. But these guys have proved they're up for the challenge," said Watt. "Rocky Mount is a great team and Greenville has our number the last two summers, but we came out and played really well against them.

"It's hard to say that these guys aren't prepared for the tournament this weekend."