03/01/13 — BASEBALL TAB -- Youthful Conquerors ready to silence critics

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BASEBALL TAB -- Youthful Conquerors ready to silence critics

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

The negative chatter is wearing thin and causing the Faith Christian baseball team to get a chip on its collective shoulder.

That could be a good sign.

Whispers follow them in the hallways and classmates hush when they step into the room. The young'uns have become annoyed by the praise heaped on last year's senior class that advanced to the N.C. Christian Schools Association Class 2-A final four.

"They keep hearing we can't have a sports program without the guys we had last year," Faith head coach Justin Smith said. "I think they're willing to step up in this last (boys') sport and see what they can do. I'm not trying to get too optimistic, but we've got some potential.

"The guys have the passion to play."

Three full-time starters -- all sophomores -- return off last year's team which fashioned a 14-6 record and emerged the NCCSA Coastal Region champion. Six other players saw minimal playing time, mostly in JV games since the Conquerors were senior heavy on the varsity squad.

Two first-year seniors -- Aaron Hill and Tyler Dilley -- joined the team this season. The lone junior is Andrew Parrish and the remainder of the group is comprised of sophomores, freshmen and seventh-graders.

Noah Welch, who worked the hot corner (third base), turned in a scrappy season at the plate in 2012. He batted .243, drew 12 walks and scored seven runs. Fellow utility player Levi Wise, who has started the past two seasons at second base, collected 16 walks and produced 15 runs.

Smith anticipates moving Wise to shortstop this spring.

"Beyond Noah and Levi, I really don't know what we're going to have (offensively)," Smith said. "But I think they have potential, though. We don't have any long-ball hitters like last year, not that we hit a lot of home runs.

"We'll just have to get runs another way. Our young guys are going to have to be aggressive at the plate. If we can get a run across with a single, that is just as good."

Each of the past two seasons, Faith Christian has received additional hitting instruction from Johnny Narron. The current hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers, Narron has spent time helping the Conquerors fine-tune their fundamentals at the plate.

Manufacturing runs with a small-ball mentality will be crucial for Smith's team. Faith must smartly run the basepaths on bunts and hit-and-run situations.

The Conquerors have plenty of holes to fill defensively, especially on the mound and behind the plate. Four pitchers graduated along with a four-year starter at catcher.

Dillon Floars and Wise saw some mound time last year. They're going to eat some innings along with Parrish, freshman Seth Price and freshman Christian Mills. Hill has been working in the bullpen as well.

"We've been stressing the mental aspect of pitching a lot," Smith said. "If you lose a guy, go after the next guy. If you miss a pitch, go after the next pitch. They're willing to work hard, but we're going to hit the ground running these next few days before our first game.

"With some help from Coach (Justin) Willoughby and the desire they have along with a few things we've showed them, I am confident we'll be ready to go that first game."

Faith Christian launches its 2013 campaign at home March 7 against Greenville Christian. The Conquerors will play five consecutive road games before entertaining perennial power Wilson Christian on March 19.

"We're going to go after it just like we've done every year by revisiting the fundamentals, focus on the first game and work on getting tough mentally," Smith said. "We've tried to keep things simple with them since they're such a young team and not overwhelm them. In the few days we have practiced, I think we can surprise some folks."