05/22/13 — New faces join veterans as Post 11 prepares for 2013 season

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New faces join veterans as Post 11 prepares for 2013 season

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 22, 2013 1:47 PM

Baseball is a religion in Wayne County.

Players who graced uniforms among the high schools enjoyed careers in the collegiate and professional ranks. And most used the Post 11 Senior American Legion baseball program as a stepping stone.

Another 18 players continue their respective paths when Wayne County opens the season Thursday evening at Creedmoor Post 161. Game time is 7 p.m. at South Granville High School.

Seven players return off last year's team which logged 17 wins and finished runner-up to Pitt County Post 39 in the Area I East Championship series. Several new faces join that corps of experienced players who seek to guide Post 11 to its second state tournament berth in the past three seasons.

"We saw some fresh faces (in tryouts) that haven't been a part of our team before that are going to be huge contributors," fifth-year Wayne County assistant coach Jackson Massey said. "We also have a few college players that will give us experience and know how to handle big situations. It is always nice to have a mix like that where the young guys can learn from the older guys, while at the same time be a big part of our success."

The returnees include four JUCO players -- Duane Gurganus, Bryant Stafford, Justin Barbour and Jamie Dove. Division I signees Jacob Sasser and Ashton Cox are back for a second season along with Southern Wayne teammate Jackson Hayes. Sasser batted .360 last summer and was one of six Post 11 batters to record 20 or more hits on the season.

Massey expects Stafford to settle into the closing role on the mound this summer. Stafford collected three of the pitching staff's five saves despite throwing just 18.3 innings for Wayne County in 2012.

Barbour and Cox shared catching duties last season. However, Cox sat out his senior campaign with the Saints due to a broken hand. Gurganus and Dove spent this past spring at Wake Tech and Guilford Tech, respectively. Gurganus hit .345 and Dove was a perfect 7-for-7 on stolen-base attempts.

Second-year Post 11 head coach Jason Sherrer and Massey assembled some quality talent to complement the returners. The duo evaluated the group on several criteria, including their character.

The newcomers are North Carolina signee Adam Pate, Reed Howell, Gregory Johnson, Ben Rouse, Garrett Joyner, Ryan Grant, Cody Wendorf, Kevin Williams, Josh Dixon, Zach Smith, Ryan Faucette, Cody Neal and Greene Central's Chad Murphy.

"This is just a good group of guys (who) come out ready and prepared to get better each day, and are ready to work," Massey said. "The baseball season is a grind and some will look at the summer as time for a break, but these guys don't.

"They are itching to play again and that's all you can ask for."

Massey and Sherrer plan to utilize the team's speed and attempt to put pressure on opposing teams' defenses. Post 11 swiped just 25 bases a year ago compared to 51 in 2011.

The coaches also plan to juggle the lineup during early-season play so they can see who handles what situation well -- either at the plate or in the field.

"At the end of the day, our success is measured on did the guys get better over the summer," Massey said. "The wins and losses are going to take care of themselves. Our ultimate goal is to make these guys better baseball players."

And the chance to prosper in a tradition-rich program.