If Aaron Pilkington hits a home run Tuesday in Ardrey Kell’s third-round N.C. 4A home playoff game against South Caldwell, he’ll tie the state public school record with 20 this season.
With 19, Pilkington has already hit more home runs than any player listed on MaxPreps.com’s national rankings.
He also leads the Knights (27-2) in batting average (.438), runs scored (35), hits (32), RBIs (43), total bases (95), slugging percentage (1.301) and on-base percentage (.616). He has the school record for walks in a season with 29.
And he’s a 16-year-old sophomore on a team loaded with Division I college recruits.
“He’s a work in progress, but he’s already advanced far beyond his age,” Ardrey Kell coach Hal Bagwell said. “He’s got raw power, but what he’s done to fine-tune it tells me he’s going to become a better hitter every day.”
Pilkington, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound corner infielder and catcher, transferred to Ardrey Kell this year after playing his freshman season at Marvin Ridge.
Bagwell saw Pilkington when the Knights played the Mavericks last season. He remembers a big, strong kid with good hands that knew how to get the barrel to the ball.
“I knew the first time I saw him swing that he was going to be a kid to hit for power,” Bagwell said.
Pilkington started playing baseball at 4 years old and learned the game from his father, Richard, who played at a small college in West Virginia, according to Aaron. He grew up watching his older brother, Tyler, play at Weddington and UNC Charlotte.
Pilkington remembers learning to hit using a heavy, 3-foot-long metal pipe in his garage. His dad watched his form and made sure his hands stayed inside the ball.
“I’ve always had good power, but nothing like what I’ve done this season,” he said. “I’m not really sure where this is coming from.”
Pilkington had one home run in his first 12 games, according to Bagwell. Since then, he has hit 18 in 17 games.
“My swing wasn’t right, it wasn’t what it was supposed to be the first games. My confidence wasn’t real high,” Pilkington said. “But once you start hitting the ball, the confidence started going up and then the swing started getting better and then it took off from there.”
Ardrey Kell is ranked No. 23 nationally by MaxPreps and has won 14 straight since a loss to Hough last month. The Knights won the SoMeck 8 regular-season and tournament titles and are in the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
“Our pitching staff is phenomenal, and our hitting is coming through right now,” Pilkington said. “I think we’re all just finally starting to click at the right time.”
He said part of his success at the plate comes from the talent around him in the lineup.
Pitchers “can’t walk me every time because they’ve got (N.C. State signee Zach) Featherstone right behind me,” Pilkington said. “Plus we’ve got (Louisiana State signee) Doug (Norman) and Kollin (Schrenk). One through seven (in the lineup) is unbelievable. Same with our eight and nine (hitters). So they have to throw to everybody.”
Bagwell is in his 18th year as a head coach. He has coached many Division I baseball players at Ardrey Kell and South Mecklenburg, but he has never seen a player hit the ball like Pilkington.
“We’ve had a lot of real good hitters, and we’ve never had anyone to hit for this kind of power,” Bagwell said. “He is the most advanced sophomore hitter I’ve ever had. Not even close.”
Inscoe: 704-358-5923; Twitter: @CoreyInscoe
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