Every morning when Corey Sikes wakes up, one of the first things he does is look at his 2A state baseball championship ring that sits atop the dresser in his bedroom.The Piedmont High senior all-state pitcher, 18, played an integral part on the 30-3 Panther team, going a perfect 11-0 on the mound with a 1.17 ERA and 81 strikeouts. He likes to reminisce about the last year’s state championship run, but he also has turned the page to the 2014 season.“Just looking at my (state championship) ring makes me think about how hard I worked and how much work I put into getting there,” Sikes said. “Then I think about this season and how much harder I am going to have to work to get back there. Every time I see the ring, it makes me want a second one that much more.” Sikes, the No. 1 starter and ace of the pitching staff, will set the tone for his team. He doesn’t try to overpower batters, throwing an 84-85 mph fastball, with a nasty curveball and a change-up (around 77 mph) to keep batters honest. Piedmont baseball coach Milt Flow said his biggest strength is his control and location, adding “he can throw any pitch in any count for a strike.”“It’s a big responsibility to be the No. 1 guy, but I know people are looking up to me and expecting me to play well,” said Sikes, who also plays for the South Charlotte Panthers’ showcase team and was named 2014 Greater Charlotte Hot Stove League pitcher of the year. “It’s a lot of pressure, but I feel like I am at my best when the pressure is on. I love pitching in the big games.” Flow also needs Sikes to step at the plate, where Sikes is hitting .375 so far this season from the No. 6 spot in the lineup.“Corey is a great leader for this team already,” Flow said. “He’s the first person at practice and the first to stay after and put in extra work, or just clean up equipment or whatever you need him to do. He’s the complete package. We are counting to show even more of that this season.”Sikes says his approach comes from his passion for the game.“I loved baseball since I picked up a baseball when I was 4 years old,” Sikes said. “I try to work as hard as I can while enjoying it. But you never know how long you are going to be able to play. So I never take anything I get to do on the field for granted.” Sikes is part of an experienced team that returns six other players from the state championship squad: seniors Nigel Hester (all-state, North Carolina A&T signee), Hunter Jones (all-state, UNC Charlotte 49ers’ signee), Josh Evans, Colton Greene, Austin Hardin and Carlos Sandoval.Hester sets the tone as the leadoff hitter, batting .425 with 11 stolen bases last season, while Jones, who hit .345 last season, is the in the meat of the order at No. 3.Piedmont also will benefit from two transfers who will be key parts of the pitching rotation with Sikes and Evans: former West Stanly standout Caleb Dulin (Mars Hill commit) and former Forest Hills standout David Nash.Piedmont, ranked No. 3 in the preseason Observer Sweet 16 poll, is moving from class 2A to 3A and into the Southern Carolina Conference, where two-time defending 3A state champion Weddington and perennial 3A power Marvin Ridge will be major tests for the team.But the Panthers are looking forward to the challenge.“I think we’ve all heard the doubters say if we were in 3A, that we wouldn’t have won it all and stuff like that,” Flow said. “But I think this team, especially the seniors, are eager to prove what they can do.”“It’s definitely motivating to hear that kind of stuff, and I think we are also excited to be in the new conference and in 3A,” Sikes said. “I’m looking forward to playing Marvin Ridge (April 8, 9 and 11) and Weddington (April 1, 2 and 4) and other great teams. Playing the best teams is the fun part about it, and we will find out who the best team is (going to be).” Sikes will continue his baseball career at Western Carolina University.At 5-foot-11, 150 pounds, Sikes, along with Flow, believes he could be just starting to realize his full potential.“I definitely feel like I have the potential to get a lot better,” Sikes said. “I’m excited to be a part of the (Western Carolina) program and get up there and get to work.”“I believe once Corey starts to fill out, and adds a little bit more strength and velocity to his game, he is going to get even better,” Flow said. “I think the best is yet to come.”
Tuesday, Mar. 18, 2014
Piedmont’s Sikes hopes this year has a familiar ring to it
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at email@example.com.
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