Winning the Southern Collegiate Baseball League title has become old hat for the Lake Norman Copperheads.
The Copperheads have won the SCBL championship in the past two seasons and three times in the past five years – and done so with vastly different lineups each time.
So Copperheads coach Jeremy Johnson said there’s no pressure on either him or the players – even after starting this season 1-5 through games of June 6 – to win the title again.
“We’ve had two different teams the past two years,” said Johnson, now in his third year as the Copperheads’ coach. “One team, the one the first year (2013), we had guys who could really hit the ball; last year, we had guys who could really throw the ball.
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“It may raise the bar a little bit for us. But every year, we have different kids that come in and have some returners. From year to year, you know a little bit of what you have coming in, but a lot of times it varies. You have to take what you get when they come in, and make the best of it.”
Only three players return from last year’s Copperheads team, which swept the top-seeded Ballantyne Smokies in two games to win the league championship.
However, all three have local connections – pitcher Hunter Dodson lives in Huntersville and attended Lincoln Charter; catcher Pierce Suttles went to Cornelius’ Hough High and outfielder Ryan Brennan went to Mooresville High. A fourth player – outfielder Richard Carter – also returns after playing for the 2013 Copperheads team.
In fact, the Copperheads delve deep into area talent – of their 29 players this season, 18 went to high school in either Charlotte, Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson or Mooresville – but their success over the past two years has given the team pretty much their pick of players.
“As far as putting the teams together, it starts early – literally as soon as the season’s done, we get emails from guys trying to beat everybody to the punch,” said Johnson, who added that 200 to 300 players contact Copperheads management each year.
Johnson also said the Copperheads deal with several area college baseball teams, who steer players their way.
“That’s why they send them here – to get them reps and get them ready to compete for a starting spot on their college team in the fall,” Johnson said.
“That’s our goal – we had a guy from last year that’s now starting for Virginia Tech at second base; there’s another that’s starting for (East Carolina) at catcher and playing a lot, and another is starting at shortstop and second base.
“From year to year, they were possibly a guy who could help, but not sure where they were going to fit. But they did a good job here, got some good reps and experience. That helped them in fall ball to earn a starting role.”
That’s the ultimate goal of the Copperheads’ program, according to general manager Derek Shoe.
“When we have success here, it propels these guys to bigger and better leagues,” Shoe said. “That’s ultimately what we want – it’s our job to send these guys back to school better than they were when they got here.
“We set the bar high here, so when these guys do well here, other colleges know about it, and other leagues know about it. Our league’s gotten better, so people know if they can perform in this league, they can perform in other leagues.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Bill? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.