The first summer of the Johnston County Summer Baseball League brought plenty of challenges for the seven participating teams. First among those was Mother Nature and a wetter than normal summer that caused more games to be rescheduled than played on their originally intended dates.
Still, coaches in the league all had positive reviews for the season.
Although all seven coaches in the league stressed development above scoreboard performance, Cleveland had to be pleased in that area as well, going a combined 26-3-1 between its varsity (15-1) and junior varsity teams (11-2-1).
“It was good for both of our teams,” said Rams coach Jamie Lee. “We had an opportunity to experiment with players in different positions. It really helped us learn more about our JV kids individually and our varsity kids had chance to jell together and learn how to be leaders while improving their fundamentals.”
Smithfield-Selma fielded a decidedly young team as well. The Spartans’ two biggest positives from the summer were pitching depth and leadership development according to coach Chase Crocker.
“We played a very young team as several rising freshmen contributed to the varsity team,” Crocker said. “We really wanted our pitchers to develop some toughness and experiment with pitches, which we felt they accomplished. We also developed some leadership with a few players, which we believe will help us in the grind of a high school baseball season.”
South Johnston coach Keith Durham noted that pitching was an issue the Trojans would be facing in the 2014 season, and he had seen three individuals who did well on the mound during the summer.
“A lot of the faces changed, and we needed to see what these guys could do,” Durham said. “I was real pleased with a lot of different things.”
West Johnston coach Joey Worley also used more players on the mound this summer than a team typically would during a spring high school season.
At the plate, the Wildcats showed some growth as well.
“Our biggest area that needed improvement was our hitting,” Worley said. “We showed signs of it throughout the summer but was never able to show the consistency that we would like to see. Overall, I think we got better in some areas, which will help us next season.”
Corinth Holders, which moves to the 3A ranks this coming season, spent the summer getting a little more acquainted with its new varsity and junior varsity players and playing in a league with three future conference opponents in Cleveland, South and SSS.
North Johnston coach Brian Ford also said the league was a boon for the Panthers and county rival Princeton.
“We’re a small 2A school, and in the northern part of the county,” Ford said. “Neither us nor Princeton have had the opportunities to play summer ball, but now we do.
“We know it’s an uphill battle for us, but it’s a chance for the kids on our respective teams to be able to develop, to forget about the score. As long as the premise of the league is kept, everything else is perfect.”
The Panthers used 10 freshmen on the varsity squad this summer.
“Those 10 freshmen that played did a phenomenal job for us,” Ford said. “We just have to be able give them the time to get acclimated to our system. They have a lot of guts, a lot of grit. They just don’t give up.”
Princeton found some potential future bright spots on the mound during its first summer prep play. Coach Michael Prince praised the pitching of rising sophomores Matthew Boyette and Nick Phillips and senior Matt Edwards.
Behind the dish, Princeton groomed two new catchers – rising junior Tyler Beasley and rising sophomore Hunter Mitchell – during the summer.
“Being the only 1A team in the league and the smallest team, I think we played very well,” Prince said. “We got on the board in every game but one. I’m most proud of how our players worked together and played almost every position possible. They stepped up and showed great commitment and love for the game.”