Hough High baseball coach Jimmy Cochran said his current team reminds him quite a bit of the Huskies team he coached to the N.C. 4A state championship game six years ago.
“We've lost six games this year,” he said, “and five of them are by one run.”
The 2018 Hough team (21-6) plays host to Pfafftown Reagan (16-8) in a second round playoff game Friday at 7. These Huskies have won seven straight and beaten nationally ranked Lake Norman (24-3) in two of three meetings this season. Hough has set single-season school records for on-base percentage (.444), slugging average (.496), extra base hits (93) and home runs (19).
And the team is led by the best player Cochran said he's ever coached: 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior J.D. Brock. Cochran said if Hough expects to make a big postseason run, Brock will have to be a big part of it.
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For the season, Brock - an outfielder and left-handed pitcher - bats .438 with 21 RBIs, two home runs and 29 runs scored. As a pitcher, he's 4-1 with 49 strikeouts in 39.1 innings. Teams manage to hit only .171 against him, and his earned-run average, not surprisingly, is 1.62.
“I played football, baseball and basketball growing up, until eighth grade,” Brock said. “That's when I realized I needed to be serious about baseball and be as good as my potential. I had to focus.”
Brock's grandfather played football and baseball at Clemson. His father did the same at Alabama. Brock grew up a Clemson baseball fan and shortly after the Tigers offered him a scholarship two years ago, he committed in June of 2016.
Brock said he'll be a two-way player at Clemson, but admits he's a “little more consistent” as a pitcher, where he can throw up to 92 mph, which is Major League Baseball fast.
“He projects more as a pitcher,” Cochran said. “But he plays right field, too. He'll normally pitch (at speeds) in the upper 80s, and he's got a breaking ball he can throw for a strike. He's got a good change-up that's he's working on developing a little more. Man, he's the total package."
Cochran said Brock is an A/B honor roll student who is “as physically talented as anybody I've coached. He leads us in about every category we keep. He's just an athletic kid who throws the ball hard.”
He's part of a team that Cochran believes has a chance to win Hough its first state baseball title.
The Huskies allow just over two runs per game, which ranks No. 8 among all N.C. 4A teams. In the seven-game win streak, Hough has outscored opponents 78-5. That run includes four shutouts and a decisive 10-3 win over Lake Norman in the I-MECK 4A championship game, which was played at Lake Norman.
Hough had a bye in Tuesday's first round and begins it postseason run Friday. Cochran said he thinks it can be a long one.
“This is probably the most complete team we've had,” he said. “And with J.D., he's just not fazed by anything, and as a coach, you just have a feeling he'll get the job done."
In the conference tournament championship, for example, Brock smacked a two-strike pitcher for an RBI and a 3-1 lead. Later, he hit another two-strike pitch for a 3-run homer.
Brock said he's worked hard on his body to get stronger, lifting weights “almost every day,” to jump from a 5-foot-11, 165-pound freshman to 6-2, 190 now, at 17 years old.
He said his team has worked just as hard, and Brock believes the Huskies are ready for this moment.
“This team is something different,” he said. “All of us are really close and we love each other and we play for each other. I would be OK going 0-for-4 (hitting) with four strikeouts and winning. Everybody's the same. There's not a selfish player on this team. We do it for each other. I think that really helps us out."
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr