Branden Knapp admits he learned a lot during his first year as Hickory Ridge's head baseball coach.
Not only because he took on the responsibility of managing the team for the first time, but also because he had to do it all alone.
"It was tough being out here by myself, not having any help," he said. "I never realized how much stuff I had to deal with - field maintenance, having to do laundry, just taking care of a lot."
Even though Knapp wishes he would've had an assistant to help him run the program, he's in some ways glad it turned out the way it did.
"I now know what needs to be accomplished," he said. "When I get some help I know what I'll have to focus on."
Knapp admits that he enjoyed his first year on the helm of the program. He took over after Dick Steed took a coaching job in Florida last July. Knapp had been the JV baseball coach since the Harrisburg school opened three years ago.
The Ragin' Bulls, who wrapped up their season last Tuesday with a 9-1 loss to East Rowan in the second round of the 3A playoffs, were 13-12 (9-5 in the South Piedmont Conference).
Knapp said that overall he thought his program was successful.
"We won more games than we ever had in the program; we won our first playoff game and we were above .500," he said. "But we definitely could've done a lot better - we lost, I think, six one-run games."
Hickory Ridge will have to bond as a team and gain confidence to get over that hump and take some of those close games next year.
"They need to know that they belong out there with the best teams," said Knapp.
"A lot of times they tend to get intimidated playing teams with good reputations."
Senior captain Luke Hall said the team had to get used to Knapp's coaching style.
"We were set in coach Steed's ways, but coach Knapp did a great job at keeping the tradition going," he said. "All-in-all, we still had a good season and improved."
The Bulls met almost all of their coach's goals, the notable exception being that the team was unable to win the SPC title, finishing third in the conference behind Northwest Cabarrus and Mount Pleasant.
"We were right there - one game back - but we did well against the teams that won," said Knapp. "We're right where I want them to be."
Junior Zach Andrews said he enjoyed the all-Cabarrus County league.
"We played more people that we knew, so it was more of a personal kind of thing," said the Bulls' shortstop/pitcher.
Andrews was especially proud of his team's 8-3 win over Northwest in late March, which came only four days after the Ragin' Bulls were blown out by the Trojans, 16-1.
Knapp said the team improved their fielding, which had been a problem at the beginning of the season, and worked to better their hitting and pitching.
The Ragin' Bulls hit more home runs than in previous seasons - 17 overall, led by catcher Armando Castaneda's five homers.
The team was led by Andrews, who batted 3.93 while also finishing the season with a team-best 1.84 ERA in 57 innings pitched.
Andrews also led the team in runs scored, 19, and was second in the team in stolen bases (14) behind junior outfielder Jarrod Brown, who had 17.
The Ragin' Bulls' first playoff win - in which they defeated Harding University 8-0 - was one of the highlights of Knapp's season.
"It was just a great game all around," he said. "It was nice to get one under our belt."
Knapp's also proud of his team's third-place finish in the SPC tournament.
As Knapp shifts his focus to next season, he already has some ambitious goals.
"I want to win conference," he said. "I think that's definitely in our grasp."
He also wants his team, which loses four seniors, to make it further into the playoffs. But before that, he knows his team needs to improve.
That why he's putting together a summer team at Hickory Ridge, where his younger players will play in the upcoming months while some of their older teammates play legion baseball and even in college scout teams.
"It's always good to keep them together and have more one-on-one time to develop these young guys who will need to step up for us next year," he said.
The rising senior class, led by Andrews, will have to step up to for the team to improve upon this season.
"We have been playing with each other for awhile," he said. "Since we came over to a new school and were able to be in varsity freshman and sophomore years, which is uncommon, I think we'll be better next year."