03/01/13 — BASEBALL TAB -- Playoff loss, graduation motivates Saints

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BASEBALL TAB -- Playoff loss, graduation motivates Saints

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on March 1, 2013 1:47 PM

Motivation shouldn't be hard to find for Southern Wayne's seven returning starters this spring.

The sting of last season's season-ending loss at West Brunswick in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A state playoffs should provide all the fuel to the fire the Saints need. Southern Wayne watched a 4-0 lead evaporate in the bottom of the seventh inning in a 5-4 loss to the Trojans.

"It keeps us hungry," Saints' head coach Trae McKee said. "I thought we kind of experienced what it's going to take. I think the kids coming back have something to prove especially losing nine seniors. I think the kids back from last year have a fire underneath them."

The reigning Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference tournament champion, Southern Wayne boasts a junior- and senior-ladened roster chocked full of varsity experience.

Senior first baseman and pitcher Jacob Sasser provides thump at the plate, a reliable glove and a veteran arm on the mound. Hurlers Jackson Hayes and Cody Wendorf both shined at times last season. The duo will be counted on along with Sasser to fill the void left by workhorse pitcher Jeremy Taylor.

Jacob Hollingsworth, D.J. Skinner, Matthew Holland and Garrad Whitfield could all see time on the mound.

"I feel good about our rotation," McKee said. "I want to see that competitiveness that we lost in Jeremy Taylor on the mound from Jacob, Jackson and Cody. All three of those guys will carry the load. The younger guys will have to identify themselves as guys who can get us some outs.

"We'll use the non-conference portion of our schedule to see who can step up in that role."

Offensively, the Saints possess a combination of hitters capable of driving the ball to the gap or playing small ball. Filling the void left by senior catcher Ashton Cox, who is expected to be sidelined for eight weeks after wrist surgery, is a priority. Kevin Williams and Nathan Barwick will split time behind the plate until Cox returns.

Seniors Taylor Raynor and Thomas Kelly along with junior center fielder Clayton Cashwell will be counted on to drive in runs and move base runners over.

"As far as the lineup is concerned, I feel like we're heading in the right direction," McKee said. "I think we have a chance to put some runs up. I think lack of experience in the bottom of the lineup could be a concern. We have some power in spots and in different parts of the order we're going to have to play small-ball."

A challenging non-conference schedule with contests against South Lenoir, Rocky Mount and Wilson Hunt should prepare Southern Wayne for the rigors of ECC play. The Saints open their conference slate March 8 at home against Triton.

"I just want to see us competing on a pitch-to-pitch basis," McKee said. "I know we are going to play as hard as we possibly can and see where we are when it all shakes out. We're going to go to the drawing board and try to make an improvement the next day."