Last year, Pine Lake Prep’s baseball team lost more games – many more games – than it won.
But the Pride made the state playoffs, then proceeded to advance to the third round before being eliminated.
Now, with a new coach and most of the starters from last year’s team back in the lineup, Pine Lake Prep looks to win more games than it loses this season.
“The kids have been working together really well,” Pride coach Windell Robertson said. “They played into the third round of the playoffs, which is something in itself. When you do that, you’ve played pretty well.”
Pine Lake Prep returns six starters – five of them sophomores – from last year’s team, which finished 6-13-1 (3-9 Southern Piedmont 1A). Only two other teams finished worse in the league standings than the Pride: Bessemer City and Jefferson Academy, both at 2-10.
That finish – fifth in the seven-team conference – was enough to get Pine Lake Prep a wild-card berth in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A state playoffs.
The Pride then pulled off road wins over Avery County and conference rival Community School of Davidson, but lost to league champ Cherryville in the third round.
“Last year, at the beginning of the season, we weren’t really playing as a team. It was more like a group of individuals,” said catcher Jakob Peace, the team’s lone returning senior starter. “As the season went on, we lost some games, but we grew together as a team. Those last three games were just solid team effort. That should continue on to this year, because we’ve got the same core group of guys. That’s going to carry on.”
Also returning for Pine Lake Prep – all sophomores – are shortstop Alex Cohen, second baseman Casey Scholl, first baseman/pitcher Shane Connolly, third baseman/pitcher Will Harwood, and center fielder/first baseman Taylor Hochman.
“We’re still pretty young, but they’re great kids,” said Robertson, who took over coaching the Pride from Chris Scholl, PLP’s upper school principal. “They’re working really, really hard. That’s not saying they’re going to win. … But I can honestly say the kids have put in the time, and they don’t gripe. They just get in there and work.”
Four of the returnees hit .300 or better: Cohen led the team with a .364 batting average, Connolly hit .333, Peace .328 and Harwood .322. Cohen also led the team in runs scored (19), while Connolly and Peace led in RBIs with 11 and 10, respectively.
“We’ve got a good nucleus to work around,” Robertson said.
Pine Lake Prep is also playing a full 22-game schedule this season, with some tough nonconference opponents.
The Pride have scrimmage games against North Mecklenburg and East Mecklenburg, and regular-season games against Sun Valley, Asheville Reynolds, North Meck, North Iredell and Hough.
They’re also playing in their first holiday tournament, the East Burke Spring Break Tournament.
“We’ve upgraded our schedule quite a bit,” Robertson said. “The whole idea is for the kids to play as good of competition as they can. That’s the only way they’re going to get better – to play people that are good.
“We want to play as many quality clubs as we can, in conference or out of conference, it doesn’t matter. We just want to play quality opponents so our kids can improve.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Bill? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.