After being an all-state player last season, senior pitcher Stephen Gilmore feels like he improved in the offseason.
"I've picked up a little bit of velocity and matured more on the mound," he said.
During the offseason, Gilmore said he worked on changing his arm angle after Eagles' coach Tim Kirk, who's in his first year with the team, talked to him about it when he took over the team last spring.
"I was throwing a little bit out instead of getting it up," the left-hander said.
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Gilmore explained that playing club ball with the South Charlotte Panthers, where he's teammates with Jay M. Robinson pitcher Brody Koerner, helped him do that.
"We definitely faced a lot of good teams," he said. "That's helped get used to facing really good batters. The coaches on the team definitely helped me grow, too."
Kirk, who played at Salisbury High before pitching at North Carolina and in the minor leagues for four seasons in the 1980s, said Gilmore's offseason workout regimen, which focused on strengthening his core, has also helped him get better.
"He's a great competitor," said Kirk. "He's one of the hardest workers you'll see. He has a routine and he knows what he needs to do to not only get the job done, but also to keep his arm healthy... that allows him to go deep in ball games."
Gilmore's offseason work seems to be paying off, as he's started the year averaging two strikeouts an inning - striking out 44 batters in his first 20 innings on the mound. Heading into this week, he had only allowed seven hits and seven walks while recording a 3-1 record.
The 6-foot-3, 165-pounder is a confident pitcher, who uses his strong arm to get an upper hand against opposing players.
"He's a power pitcher," said Kirk. "We like to establish the fastball when he's out on the mound, mixing in his curve ball and change-up to keep batters off balance."
Gilmore, who started the year with a 0.70 ERA, explained that he couldn't do well without the rest of the Eagles.
"I know that I have the team behind me to always have a good game," said the 17-year-old.
Gilmore, who was hitting .421 before sitting out last week because of a virus, isn't the only Eagle who's started the year with a hot bat. Junior Jonathan Martin, who was leading the team with a .429 batting average and four home runs, as well as all-conference senior Zach Cantadore (.424) are also having strong offensive starts.
Martin, who plays first base and also pitches, has also helped the Eagles from the mound, where he's 2-2.
Starting three freshmen and an eighth-grader on the team, Kirk said his seniors - Cantadore and Gilmore - have been key as they've grown into better leaders.
Gilmore, who plays center field when not on the mound, said that he knew he had to take ownership of the Eagles in his final season on the team.
"I try to be a leader and be a good example for this team," he said. "Some times when people are goofing off, I try to keep them in line."
Kirk said his Eagles have performed as expected, aside from a close loss to Metrolina earlier in the month.
"I realize SouthLake is the team to beat, but there's several teams in the conference fighting for the two and three spots - and we're one of those," said Kirk.
Gilmore said he sees potential on the team that could allow them to contend for the Metrolina Athletic Conference title, but the Eagles' main goal this year is to get back to the state playoffs after missing out last year.
Although Gilmore's focus is still on his Eagles, he also has college in the back of his mind. He said he's excited to continue his baseball career at Gardner-Webb next year.
"I know a lot of people don't get that opportunity," he said.