Greg Simmons started a tradition with the Charlotte Christian baseball team in the late 90s. He asks his team, Whos going to be at the bottom of the pile?Photos of his championship teams with players in celebratory big piles fill the walls of Simmons office. If youre in that pile, if youre on the bottom, that means youre in the mix, said Simmons, in his 23rd year leading the Knights. Thats a big thing and they grasp onto that. The Knights dog piled last season after winning the schools 11th state championship and the 10th under Simmons. Several key players return from that team and want to be at the bottom of another pile.Charlotte Christian went 32-6 last year, won the conference and swept Wesleyan Christian to win the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A championship. The entire infield comes back from that team.College of Charleston recruit Bailey Ober, a senior, returns at first base and as the teams No. 1 pitcher. He was 10-1 last year on the mound with a 1.00 ERA and 80 strikeouts. Junior Nick Owens returns at shortstop after batting .301 with 17 RBIs last year. Senior Gardner-Webb signee Matt Simmons, Gregs son, comes back at third base. He was the power hitter for the Knights last year, leading the team with nine homeruns and 34 RBIs. Senior UNC Pembroke signee Brett Milleman returns at catcher and junior Zach McIlroy will play second for Christian. Those five with the addition of junior Garrett Bradbury, a designated hitter, first baseman and catcher will fill the top of the Knights batting order, protecting the three new players at the bottom of the lineup.The No. 2 pitcher will be senior Patrick Haynes (Wingate), who impressed Simmons out of the bullpen last year.Many of the returning players have been on varsity for three years. Theyve all been there, so they know that this is our time, said Simmons. I think the tradition of the program, theyve been a part of it. Charlotte Christians youth is in the outfield and bullpen. The outfield features three new players and no seniors. The bullpen will have many new faces. Simmons hasnt seen his young players on the field very much. The weather, which has frozen and soaked fields around Charlotte, limited full practices. From his office overlooking the baseball field last week, Simmons watched rain pound the tarped infield and a puddle form in center field.Obviously the weather has been a challenge for everybody, so one of the things you try to teach kids is baseball is all about making the adjustment, said Simmons. Were young in the outfield, were young on the mound, so we need to see live bullets and thats my only concern, to see how these young guys respond in a game situation.Simmons likes how his team has worked coming into this season, despite the weather. I havent seen them take a play off yet, he said. They work really hard. The returning players are focused on repeating as conference and state champions, said Simmons. You come with a target on your back. Thats great, said Simmons. Thats the way it ought to be. So these guys are used to that, its just the young guys have got to feel what its like to be shot at all the time. There is another tradition that started recently at Charlotte Christian. A former player comes into the locker room and writes a message to the current team on a whiteboard. Last year, it was Daniel Bard, now a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. This year it was Tyler Simmons, Gregs oldest son who is a redshirt freshman catcher at Wingate. Tylers message challenges the players to continue the Charlotte Christian tradition, to play for the name on the front of the jersey. If they do, theres a chance for another dog pile.
Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2013
Charlotte Christian baseball strives to be at the bottom of the pile
Charlotte Christian baseball players form a dog pile after winning last year's NCISAA 3A state championship. CHARLOTTE CHRISTIAN SCHOOL
Private school players to watch • SS/P Daniel Stack, Providence Day: All-state senior hit .388 last year with 19 RBIs. Also had a 1.53 ERA on the mound. • P Paul Barnhill and Drew Loepprich, Charlotte Country Day: Senior Barnhill (Furman), had 42 strikeouts in 31 innings. Loepprich, a junior, was all-conference and all-state. • P Bailey Ober, Charlotte Christian: Senior College of Charleston signee was 10-1 last year. • P/INF Sam Traxler, Charlotte Latin: Honorable mention all-conference player hit .361 with nine RBIs. Also had a 2.44 ERA. • 3B Peter Englert, Covenant Day: All-conference and all-state last year with a .446 average and 41 RBIs. • 3B Caleb Smith, Carmel Christian: Senior batted .636 last year in Carmel Christian’s first year of varsity baseball.