Faith Christian baseball preview
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 9, 2012 1:48 PM
Faith Christian consistently wins in the N.C. Christian Schools Association Coastal 2-A baseball ranks, but emerging triumphant on the state level has been frustrating in recent years.
The Conquerors carried a 13-0 record into the state championship that season and lost to Bethel Christian, a region foe it had defeated twice during regular-season play. Then sophomores, Faith Christian's current senior class hasn't forgotten neither that loss nor an opening-round defeat against Berean in the NCCSA Coastal playoffs a year ago.
Fifth-year head coach Justin Smith hopes those disappointments, along with a recent semifinal-round loss in the NCCSA 2-A state basketball tournament, is enough to provide motivation on the diamond this spring.
"I told the seniors that the basketball loss should motivate you to go out your senior year and give it your best in your last sport," said Smith, who has guided Faith to three winning seasons at his alma mater. "I've seen already that these guys really want it bad. My expectations are real high for this team because they've been in the big game and know what it takes to get there.
"I feel like this really is our year to win a state championship."
Faith Christian finished 8-4 last season after winning the NCCSA Coastal championship in 2010. Smith welcomed 14 returners, including six freshmen and one eighth-grader, to practice this week. There are no sophomores or juniors on the roster.
Mixing youth with experience will be important.
So will pitching.
Matt Lambert, the Conquerors' ace last season, graduated. Smith said senior Michael Clarke will move into the No. 1 slot and has shown tremendous improvement after working with Princeton High pitching coach Jason Willoughby this summer.
Clarke fashioned a 4-1 worksheet on the rubber in 2011.
"If he has a great year and we get these other guys to support him and get them to throw some solid innings, we should be OK," said Smith. "Some of these guys who haven't pitched much like (Wes) Caudle and (Brandon) Jones, if they don't step up, it could be a rough year.
"Just like with any team, if we don't pitch well, we might not make it as far as we want to go."
Silas Denlinger returns behind the plate. Also back are fellow seniors Trent Wise, Connor Anderson and Alex Whitt. The underclassmen are Ryan Collier, John Johnson, Kyle Parks, Dillon Floars, Levi Wise, Noah Welch, Seth Delawder, Christian Mills and Zach Dawson.
Smith expects to field a strong defensive team, but may have to move some players around. He doesn't anticipate disrupting the group's chemistry it has developed over time.
"The guys have proven to be adaptable and are willing to do whatever we need to do to put a solid defensive team out there," said Smith. "I'm glad these guys have played together for so long and that's a good thing for them. (But) I do know familiarity breeds contempt sometimes."