Every time Northwest Cabarrus second baseman Tanner Bigham steps onto a baseball field, people expect a lot of him.
Although he's only a sophomore, Bigham has felt that pressure since verbally committing to play baseball at North Carolina late last year.
"People think that if you're committed as a sophomore, you should be doing something special every game," he said. "When I have nights that I don't do that great, I feel like I'm letting my team, my community, down."
For the most part, Bigham hasn't disappointed, providing the Trojans a consistent offensive weapon every time he goes up to bat. Bigham had 30 hits going into the playoffs, averaging .441 at the plate and adding 10 RBIs.
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Alongside South Carolina-bound shortstop Corey Seager, the 16-year-old has also solidified the middle for the South Piedmont Conference champions.
Northwest Cabarrus coach Joe Hubbard has been impressed by how Bigham has dealt with the scrutiny.
"Expectations can be a little unrealistic," said Hubbard. "Even with a talented sophomore, there is a lot of maturing to be done."
Bigham admits he's had a good year, getting better throughout the season as he's started to see the ball better at the plate.
The improvement is due in large part to the work he's put in. Bigham said he goes to the batting cage every day - even on the weekends and after practice with his dad - and lifts weights often as part of his commitment to improve.
The 5-foot-11 left-hander's success also can be credited to his mindset at the plate. Bigham said he doesn't try to hit home runs or be the team's hero but instead focuses on making contact.
"I try to keep a simple approach and just put the ball in play," he said.
Bigham has been able to hit the ball into the gaps all year to help the team win.
Hubbard said Bigham's qualities at the plate are what first impressed him when the infielder was moved up to varsity in the team's stretch run last season.
While playing third base, Bigham also surprised Hubbard with his composure and his team-first approach, said Hubbard.
"He's a guy who's willing to put his stats in the backseat to what his team needs," said Hubbard, adding Bigham is also a hard-nosed player who hustles and gives his team his all every inning.
Northwest Cabarrus also had high expectations coming into the season. With Bigham, Seager and pitchers Rob Bain and Weston Smith among a core group of talented Trojan players, a conference title and a deep run into the playoffs almost was expected.
The team started the year 11-1 but struggled in the past month, going 6-6 heading into last Friday's first-round playoff game against North Forsyth.
After claiming the SPC regular-season title, Northwest was ousted in the second round of the conference tournament by Jay M. Robinson.
"Offensively, I think we're really sputtering," said Hubbard last week. "We're pitching it well and still playing good defense, so hopefully we'll be able to bounce out of it."
Bigham said his team planned to use the last month as motivation heading into states.
"If we put it all together, like we know we can, know we should, we could be a really dangerous baseball team down the stretch," he said.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, Bigham plans to play for his club team, the Dirtbags, in the offseason.
He added that he's excited about his next two years as a Trojan and his future as a Tar Heel. Bigham said having committed to UNC early was a weight off his shoulders.
"A lot of kids go through junior and senior year putting pressure on themselves to do well when these people are looking at you.," he said. "I can just go out there and play to win."
Would you like to see an athlete featured in Cabarrus News? Email Sergio Tovar at email@example.com.