11/21/12 — Saints' Cox signs NLI with Gardner-Webb

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Saints' Cox signs NLI with Gardner-Webb

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 21, 2012 9:53 PM

Each time Southern Wayne catcher Ashton Cox either blocked a pitch behind the plate or stepped into the batter's box to hit last season, he'd look into left center field toward the jersey that honored the late Kevin Wise.

Cox fought back tears on occasion. He'd take a deep breath and pray that Wise, who died in his sleep last February, would provide some relaxation and guidance. The two had hoped to square off against each other in college, but Cox knows Wise is right by his side spiritually.

"How fun would that be to see each other again?" a smiling Cox said. "I've always been big in religion, but after Kevin died, it was a reality check and made me stronger. I thank God, (Southern Wayne) Coach (Trae) McKee and my parents for guiding me in the right direction."

That direction is West.

Cox signed a national letter-of-intent to play baseball at Division I Gardner-Webb University, his original choice once he knew that Wise had signed with North Carolina before his death. Cox thought about East Carolina, UNC Wilmington, Mount Olive, UNC Pembroke and several other schools before inking his name on the paperwork from GWU.

"I like how Coach (Rusty) Stroupe and Coach (Kent) Cox brought me in and showed me how they function," Cox said. "You've got to keep your grades up and keep a good attitude. They're going to put the right players on the field to get the job done. It's a good religious school.

"I went up there, loved the campus and loved being around the players. They've got a great atmosphere and I think I have the potential to stand out."

McKee agrees.

"Ashton is a good student, a very hard-working young man and his character is second to none," McKee. "It's a good fit for him both academically and athletically. It's been a great recruiting process from the coaching staff there and it seems as if it's the right situation."

A three-year varsity starter, Cox has emerged as a dependable, reliable leader and possesses a strong work ethic. He has caught 72 of 77 games behind the plate during his career and earned all-Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference accolades as a sophomore and junior.

Southern Wayne finished 18-10 last season, and posted a no-hitter against Northern Nash in the opening round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs. It was the first no-hitter for the Saints in postseason play since Josh Wilder came within one batter of throwing a perfect game against Fayetteville Cape Fear in 2001.

Cox recognizes his strengths and weaknesses. He'll undoubtedly carry a steady bat for the Bulldogs, but must work on reducing his reaction time when throwing out runners at second base. And McKee will depend upon Cox to call more pitches behind the plate.

"When I get there, I'm going to get a lot bigger and I think my bat will be better," Cox said. "I won't have as much pressure and I can concentrate more, can bring a good amount of poise to the team. Coach Cox wants to bring in players who can win the Big South and beat (perennial power) Coastal Carolina.

"Some of the boys I've played travel ball with are there and I know they're good players. I think we have a real good chance with the class that's coming in."

Gardner-Webb finished 32-28 last spring, including a 12-12 mark in Big South Conference play. The Dogs were eliminated by Liberty University in the league tournament after reaching the BSC title game in 2011.