03/01/13 — BASEBALL TAB -- Taylor: Sky is the limit for young Chargers

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BASEBALL TAB -- Taylor: Sky is the limit for young Chargers

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 1, 2013 1:47 PM

Expectations are high for the Wayne Country Day baseball team this season.

And the only encore the Chargers can achieve from a runner-up finish in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Class 1-A championship series last spring is to win it all in 2013.

To do so, a young infield must mature.

And players who weren't leaders in 2012 must accept the challenge of taking their inexperienced teammates under their wing, and hope they follow their example. So far, they've shown considerable will and desire in preseason workouts.

"Nobody thought we would do what we did last year," WCDS head coach Michael Taylor said. "To be honest with you, starting the season 2-6 and ending where we did last year is a pretty remarkable turnaround. It was the guys' focus and halfway through the year, they changed their demeanor.

"It's carried over to this year. There is a want and will out there on the baseball field to get better, to get back to the state championship series."

The Chargers, who wound up 15-10 a year ago, lost four seniors including a pair of four-year starters who provided incredible leadership on and off the field. Guiding this young team is a quartet of seniors -- Cody Neal, Thomas Kierski, Luke Bryan and Wyatt Bland.

Neal, undoubtedly, is the most-important element.

Taylor likes the right-hander's bulldog mentality that he showed last season en route to all-Coastal Plains Independent Conference and all-state accolades. Teammates have paid attention to his attitude, his will, his determination and his work ethic.

A 155-pound right-hander, Neal fashioned an 8-4 record and posted a 3.74 earned run average. He threw two complete games and fanned 83 batters in 76.7 innings of work. Offensively, he batted .429 with 11 RBI and 11 extra-base knocks.

"Cody knows and understands there is going to be a lot of pressure on him this year," Taylor said. "He is going to throw against every big opponent we have on the schedule this year. He's going to be one of those leaders on the field and off the field ... has got to make sure he's doing the right thing at all times."

WCDS returns solid experience in the outfield with Kierski in center, junior Jacob Parks in left and Bland in right.

The infield is an enigma.

Neal will start at short when he's not on the mound. Taylor anticipates Mason Bland behind the plate with John Strickland, Parker Smith, Mitch Turnage and Jacob Magera working on the infield.

"This is probably the youngest infield I've ever had," Taylor said. "We've got a lot of work to do. I think think we can win a lot of ballgames, but we have to get better every day at practice, learning our fundamentals and doing the little things that will carry over into games.

"We've got have confidence in ourselves, a strong work ethic and out-work the opponent for every out and every inning. Our mental mistakes have to be low."

The Chargers will not put a power-hitting team on the field, but rely on small ball instead. The team has more speed and will have to be smart on the basepaths during hit-and-run situations, bunts and hit more consistently to the backside at the plate.

WCDS is picked to finish fourth in the CPIC title chase behind Oakwood, Epiphany and Greenfield.