Hough High baseball coach Jimmy Cochran thinks that his 2017 Huskies team, the conference unbeaten regular season and MECKA tournament champion, is the most talented squad he’s coached in five years.
That would be since 2012, when Hough advanced to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state championship series before losing to Cary’s Middle Creek High School.
This year, powered by three major-college recruits at pitcher, the plan at Hough (19-6) is to get back to the championship round – and come home with a ring.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs begin Tuesday.
“That pitching depth,” Cochran said, ‘is our key, and we’ve got three guys that start for us that are all going to college.”
Senior left hander Nick Swiney, who stands 6-foot-3, is going to N.C. State. Senior right-hander Bailey Dees, a 6-7 right-hander, is going to Penn State. And sophomore J.D. Brock, a 6-foot left-hander, has committed to Clemson.
Swiney is 6-1 with an 0.92 ERA and 64 strikeouts. He has allowed six earned runs in what amounts to about 6 1/2 high school games pitched. Dees is 7-1 with an 0.72 ERA and 58 strikeouts. He’s allowed four earned runs in 38.2 innings. And Brock? He’s thrown 29 innings, won three of four decisions and has allowed eight earned runs. His ERA is 1.93 and he has 43 strikeouts.
Swiney is also the school’s all-time career wins leader (24), all-time career strikeouts leader (235) and he has the lowest career ERA (1.03) in Hough history, too.
“Swiney is our ace,” Cochran said. “He has started for us three years now. His numbers are unreal. He’s probably the best high school pitcher I’ve ever had. He throws in the upper 80s (miles per hour) and hits up to 91. He has got three pitches and he commands them all – and he just wins.”
Dees is the hardest thrower of the three, Cochran said. Dees transferred from Independence before his junior year.
“He’s a big, big dude, man,” Cochran said. “He comes straight down hill at you. He’s been up to 93 (miles per hour) and he’s really come on late. He throws it really hard, but he’s developed a change-up to go with it.”
Brock brings what Cochran describes as a “bulldog mentality” to the pitcher’s mound, and thinks the sophomore has an ultra bright future.
“He’s got that swagger with what he does,” Cochran said, “and he works with really good tempo and he gets up there and he’s a competitor. It shows when he pitches.”
Besides the pitchers, Hough has three other players committed to college. Outfielder Hunter Baker (.368 BA, 14 RBIs) has committed to N.C. State. Clean-up hitter Seth McAulay (.333, 13 RBIs) has committed to Western Carolina. And shortstop Carter Williams, a Presbyterian recruit, just returned from a knee sprain he suffered in the National High School Invitational in Cary about six weeks ago.
Hough went 1-3 in that tournament, which brought together some of the nation’s top high school programs, but the Huskies lost two of those games by one run each. Cochran came home thinking his team could compete with anyone.
Since that event, Hough is 11-1, losing only to two-time N.C. 3A state champion Marvin Ridge.
“I like where we’re at right now,” Cochran said. “We’re starting to play really good baseball. We played some of the best teams in the country and we competed up there. We didn’t have the results we wanted, but felt like we could compete with anyone there. And now we’re able to do things we want to do offensively with our pitching staff. We know they will keep us in the game so we can afford to be a little more aggressive.”
Cochran thinks his team is peaking at the right time, but having been to the finals before, he knows it’s not an easy journey.
“You’ve got to have some timely hits here and there, man,” he said. “With our pitching staff, I think we can stay in the games, but with the playoffs, there’s always the danger of running into that hot (pitching) arm and you’ve got to be to compete against that guy and get into the bullpen. And the 2-out hitting is key for us and something we’ve been good at all year. So if we can do all that, I really like our chances.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr