After an all-conference year as an outfielder and relief pitcher, Lake Norman's Taylor Thurber had momentum on his side heading into baseball season.
Being the team's No. 1 pitcher this year, the senior hasn't disappointed.
"He gives us a great chance to win every night," said Wildcats' coach Robert Little. "He'd be ready to throw every game if we let him."
Winning isn't anything new for Thurber, who's been helping Lake Norman for a few years.
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He started to come on toward the end of his sophomore year. In a deep and talented bullpen, Thurber pitched well as the Wildcats made a run to the 2009 3A state title.
After a strong showing in the state semifinals, Thurber was the winning pitcher when Lake Norman claimed its first baseball championship title in a 8-7 win over Eastern Wayne. Thurber came into the third and final game of the championship series in the fourth inning to get the win.
"Taylor's been in big situations," said Little. "We've had faith and belief in Taylor for a while."
As a reliever again last year, Thurber had a 2-1 record while recording a 2.59 ERA in 24 1/3 innings pitched last season. He led the team, which finished the year 15-8, with three saves.
Thurber also helped on the offensive end, having a .310 average at the plate, and played well in the outfield. He had a .889 fielding percentage and only committed three errors on the year.
With the graduation of pitchers Scottie Williams and Tyler Lewis, Thurber was thrust into the spotlight on the mound this season.
The 17-year-old said the move didn't require a big adjustment, especially after starting for his Carolina's Baseball Center Diamond Rats team in the summer.
"I got used to throwing complete games," said Thurber. "It was a huge help."
The right-hander began the season 6-0 for the Wildcats. His 1.41 ERA in 45 innings pitched has propelled Lake Norman to a 13-3 (9-2) start and a share of the top spot in the I-Meck Conference heading into last Friday's game at Vance.
Thurber uses his off-speed pitches - a cutter, a curve ball and a change-up - in combination with his fastball to get the upper-hand against batters.
The 5-foot-11 senior has been efficient, recording 66 strike outs and only walking seven batters all season.
Little said beside the movement on Thurber's pitches, what separates him from the competition is his competitive, hard-nose attitude on the field.
"He doesn't back down from anything," said Little.
Thurber is focused on the mound and before games, trying to get a good feel for the ball and all his pitches instead of goofing off with his teammates.
"I try not to get too distracted," he said. "It's mainly all baseball the day I'm on the mound."
Thurber has also had a good year at bat, averaging a .333 while hitting 13 RBIs and two home runs.
He's had a lot of help from twin brothers Jack and Ian Edmiston. The juniors, a catcher and a shortstop respectively, have been hitting the ball well, providing offensive firepower for the team.
Senior Joey McAlpin and sophomore Jesse Seaford, the Wildcats' lead-off man, are also having good seasons.
Little is proud of his team.
"We've made some mistakes that we wish we hadn't that's cost us some losses in conference," said Little. "But we've been finding ways to win."
He added that his team needs to find more consistency if they want to have a shot at winning the conference.
"We're going to need some help from the bottom of the lineup," said Little. "If we get some help, that would make it easier for the twins and the Seafords and the Thurbers to come on with people on."
After a 3-0 win against Hopewell last week, the Wildcats needed to win out to secure an I-Meck championship. Thursday's senior night game against rivals Mooresville will be key to reach the team goal.
Thurber said his team's expectations go beyond winning conference regular season and conference titles.
"We're always shooting for a state championship off the bat," said Thurber. "That's something we always try to do."
Regardless of what happens along the way, Thurber is proud of what he's accomplished at Lake Norman. He will continue his baseball career next year, having signed to play at Appalachian State.
"It feels good to know that I can keep on playing after high school," he said. "I can hardly imagine not being able to play baseball any more."
Little said when Thurber's time as a Wildcat comes to an end he will be missed.
"Taylor is a wonderful kid to coach," said Little. "He does everything you ask and then some."