A year ago, Ardrey Kell baseball coach Hal Bagwell had never heard of Cameron Brantley.
But Bagwell knew he had a special talent when he watched the 15-year-old freshman play in Ardrey Kell’s preseason workouts in September.
“Honestly, when I first saw Cameron I was taken aback, because I didn’t even know who he was,” said Bagwell, who has 408 victories in his 17 years as a high school head coach – 10 years at Ardrey Kell. “I immediately told my staff that we had a four-year varsity starter.
“Of course, he was going to have to earn it.”
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Brantley was one of the rare freshman to earn a spot in the Knights’ starting lineup.
The 5-foot-9, 190 Brantley started all 29 games for the Knights in right field, hitting .459 with five home runs and a team-best 38 RBIs in his first varsity season. He earned all-SoMeck8 conference and first-team all-Charlotte Observer honors.
Brantley achieved these honors on an Ardrey Kell team (24-5, 12-2) that was co-regular season SoMeck8 champions with eventual 4A state champion Providence.
“When I first came to Ardrey Kell, I remember people telling me I’d probably make the JV team,” said Brantley, who didn’t play for his Community House Middle School baseball team as eighth-grader. “I just kind of laughed to myself, because my goal was to be a varsity starter all along. I knew I was going to have to work hard… but I’m a very competitive person and I was confident in my ability.”
Brantley developed a lot of his confidence and skills playing for his year-round club baseball squad, Team Carolina, under coach Leland Maddox.
Brantley regularly had been facing 17- and 18-year old pitchers since seventh grade. He says he also benefited greatly from working with his older Ardrey Kell teammates, including Aaron Pilkington (All-American committed to College of Charleston) and Henry Ryan (University of North Carolina), on a daily basis.
That maturity at the plate showed, as he walked 20 times this season while striking out only seven times in 74 at-bats.
Brantley, who emerged as the Knights’ cleanup hitter, was among the team’s best in in nearly every statistic: 34 hits, 31 runs and eight stolen bases.
“Cameron had a great year, from start to finish,” Bagwell said. “He is as advanced or more advanced than any freshman that I’ve ever had.
“It was amazing to watch his development as a player. No matter what the situation or who we were playing, the moment never gets too big for him. That’s a rare quality for any player.”
Brantley continues to work hard. When Ardrey Kell’s season ended, he went right to work with his Team Carolina squad.
He often goes to the batting cage right after practices. He also often works with his older brother, Charles, 17, a rising senior who also plays for Team Carolina and Ardrey Kell.
Brantley estimates he will play 35-40 games this summer.
“It was great to have a good freshman year for Ardrey Kell, but I don’t really have a lot of time to think about that, because I’m constantly focused on getting better, moving forward with the next season,” Brantley said. “My goal now is to hit over .500 and to hit 10 home runs.… Overall, I just want to do whatever it takes to win games.”
Bagwell said he loves Brantley’s focus.
“In our end-of-the-year meeting, I just told Cameron, don’t let this be your best year, and gave him some things to work on,” Bagwell said. “But I don’t worry about him getting complacent at all. He’s always working on his game.”
“Honestly, I don’t think he’s even scratched the surface of the type of player he is going to become for us and in the future at the next levels,” Bagwell said.
Brantley’s future is already bright, as he is a Division I recruit with schools including Duke, East Carolina and N.C. State expressing interest, Bagwell said.
In his typical humble fashion, Brantley is taking all the attention in stride.
“It’s all a blessing to be getting Division I baseball looks already,” Brantley said. “But for now, I just have to focus on playing baseball, and I know the rest will come. “
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.