05/05/12 — Defense key to Warriors' success in postseason

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Defense key to Warriors' success in postseason

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 5, 2012 11:15 PM

Eastern Wayne has captured four of the last five regular-season championships on the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference baseball scene.

Now it's time to add a tournament crown.

The top-seeded Warriors (14-6) entertain South Johnston, which earned a stunning shutout victory over Charles B. Aycock. The other semifinal pits county archrival Southern Wayne against North Lenoir.

The championship is Monday.

"The conference tournament is going to be a close race and there are some hot teams in it (right now)," EW head coach Jabo Fulghum said. "I hope we are one of the ones who are hot when we need to be. The conference tournament is a time to get yourself mentally and physically ready for the playoffs.

"It's a one-and-done scenario in the playoffs, and that's how we're going to approach it."

The Warriors' postseason recipe?

Play good defense and pitch smart.

Crucial errors proved pivotal in a 2-1 loss to Aycock just one week ago. Fulghum says the defense consistency must return if Eastern Wayne hopes to duplicate last season's run which ended against Northeast Guilford in the N.C. High School Athletic Association eastern regional series.

An enthusiastic and positive Fulghum has seen two players -- Hunter Barnett and Josh Dixon -- have coming out parties on the diamond.

Barnett has emerged into a solid starter in the pitching rotation. He'll be called upon to handle more innings in the postseason due to a short-handed bullpen.

"Barney came on toward the end of last year and threw the ball good at times with the Senior Legion team," Fulghum said. "He has developed some arm strength since last year and his location has gotten better. This year he's able to hit spots ... pin-point a little more than last year and that makes all the difference in the world."

Dixon took on the catching role when teammate Jake May was diagnosed with leukemia in January. May is currently in remission and has been an inspiration for Dixon, who has patterned his game to that of May, who was undoubtedly a calming presence behind the plate last spring.

"Josh has lived up to what Jake has expected out of him," Fulghum said. "Josh saw what Jake did last year as a junior and I think he's trying to work his way to become what Jake was as a junior. He has really improved behind the plate.

"A good catcher who can block balls in the dirt and keep runners from advancing gives a pitcher confidence. He's learned to do that well, and he has provided a little offensive punch for us."

Eastern Wayne is 5-4 at home this season, but has dropped its last two outings in New Hope.