South Charlotte

Sabre baseball hopes to build on last year's lessons

In the South Mecklenburg baseball team room, there is a list of goals written in red marker on the white board. There are the obvious ones: win conference, beat Ardrey Kell and Providence, go 3-0 in the Jack Sink Invitational tournament.

Written above those are the goals the team is really focused on: having productive at bats, taking each game seriously and reducing errors. Sabre coach John Tuscan knows if they accomplish those, the rest will come.

"Those are the things we can control," said the third-year coach. "Obviously we want to be up there with (Ardrey Kell) and Providence, but that's not something that we directly control. So we want to control those things we can and then everything else, the wins, will fall into place."

With a team loaded with underclassmen last year, South Meck finished 16-10 overall and 8-6 in the conference, tying for third place with Butler in the Southwestern 4A . Tuscan has nearly the same group back this year and has high expectations for his squad, as long as they don't lose the "blue collar attitude" that the team has had over the last two years.

"We want to come out and be the scrappiest team on the field," he said.

This is the first year Tuscan has mostly returning starters, only losing pitcher Chris Pearlman and outfielders Tim Youtsey and Daniel Brown to graduation last year. He said it's allowed him to do more in-depth development and his players know what Tuscan expects. They also have the experience and a level of maturity that the Sabres didn't have last year.

"They've had big wins, big losses," said Tuscan. "They've won comeback games, they've lost leads. They've done it all."

The team is experienced, but it's still relatively young with just three seniors as expected starters.

The Sabres return their entire infield, starting with junior first baseman and pitcher Earl Oliver, who hit .320 last year and was the team's No. 2 starting pitcher. Sophomore second baseman Brooks Kennedy, a "phenomenal overall athlete," according to Tuscan, and senior shortstop Andrew Mauldin fill the middle infield and sophomore Michael Smith, who Tuscan said has been hitting well coming into this year, will play third. Mauldin will also help on the mound this year. In a preseason scrimmage, Tuscan said he had six strikeouts in two innings pitched.

Junior catcher and South Carolina commit Logan Koch hit .330 last year and had four homeruns.

Senior Adam Nix is a quick centerfielder for the Sabres and he'll be joined by junior McKay Wrenn (.345 batting average last year) and senior Tyler Braxton, who is moving from the infield.

Despite a high finish in the conference last year, Tuscan thinks his team could have finished better. There were situations where they would melt down, enter "freak out mode." He doesn't think that will happen much this year.

Finishing high in the conference still won't be easy. Providence High and Ardrey Kell, once again, return talented teams. Ardrey Kell lost all-conference pitcher Chris McCue (North Carolina) and co-SW4A Player of the Year shortstop Logan Ratledge (N.C. State), but returns pitchers Trent Thornton (North Carolina commit) and Brad Stone (N.C. State commit).

Even after losing all-conference shortstop Jake Fincher (N.C. State) and catcher Brett Austin, who was taken in the first round of the MLB draft but decided to play in college at N.C. State, Providence's lineup includes four all-conference players, including Clemson commit Jackson Campana.

Even with a new head coach in Rick Sambrotto the Butler baseball team should be tough again this year and Tuscan said he's impressed with what he saw from Myers Park at a scrimmage before the season started.

Tuscan admits he got caught up in conference rankings and wins and losses last year, but he's grown along with his team. This year, the goal is to get the little things right.

"We want to focus on the process this year and everything else will take care of itself," he said.