In December, when Ardrey Kell High baseball standout Cam Brantley was working out, his personal trainer made him a bet – and a promise.
“We were doing some speed work at a local training facility,” said Brantley, a North Carolina Tar Heels recruit who plays right field. “He wanted me to challenge myself with my diet. He thought it could make a big difference this season.”
The 17-year-old took the bet. Brantley, a 5-foot-9 junior, punted on soft drinks and pushed away from sweets. No candy bars. No cookies after the pre-game meal.
The results? Branley dropped 10 pounds to 190, and he is having perhaps the best season of his career.
Brantley is hitting .410 with two home runs, eight doubles, two triples and 20 RBIs. He’s safely stolen 19 bases in 20 attempts, setting a school record. That’s partly due to an increase in speed and agility that he attributes to drinking more water than Gatorade.
“It’s about the higher goal of getting to where I want to get to,” Brantley said. “It’s about being leaner, getting more sleep and feeling better and not having as many aches and pains.”
Brantley’s added 5 pounds of lean weight since his initial loss, but was surprised to see his stomach, face and neck slim down, too.
And on the field, he began the season on a tear, hitting .621 in his first seven games. He’s leveled off some and teams pitch around him more often, but Knights coach Hal Bagwell says Brantley is enjoying his best season.
“I think the diet made a big difference,” said Bagwell, whose Knights began the N.C. 4A playoffs Wednesday against Winston-Salem’s Mount Tabor. “He’s faster and quicker and he knew those were things he had to improve on.
“His reaction time is better. His acceleration is better, but it’s not just about losing the weight. He puts in as much work to improve on stuff as anyone.”
Two years ago, when Brantley came to Ardrey Kell as a freshman, Bagwell said he thought Brantley had a chance to rival the best players he’s coached. For his career, Brantley’s hit .422 with a .592 on-base percentage, where .450 would be considered good. He has 84 career RBIs, 86 runs scored, eight home runs and 30 stolen bases. He’s also walked 61 times, another school record.
“I knew we had a special one, from his freshman year,” Bagwell said. “And he’s a good boy. He’s up there with all the best ones I’ve coached. He’s worked his (tail) off and does everything you ask him to do and more – and he doesn’t take a rep off.
“He’s a coach’s dream. He’s got a good family and he’s got his priorities in order. He’s got a chance to be really good.”
Bagwell believes his team can be special, too.
The Knights (19-8) have gotten solid hitting from Brantley, sophomore Trey Tujetsch (.342) and junior Parker Ledford (.434, 22 RBIs). They’re getting quality pitching from senior Kevin Finzer (2-1, 1.16 ERA) and John Dancy (3-1, 1.8 ERA). Bagwell said for his team to make a deep run in the playoffs, it must be more consistent defensively – and for Brantley to continue producing at a high level.
“He’s doing so well,” Bagwell said, “and we just want him to focus on the things he needs to improve on to improve his chances at the college level. He’s a possible (Major League Baseball) draft pick. He just plays big in big games.
“He’s got an advanced awareness of the strike zone that separates him from a lot of other prospects. He knows the strike zone and knows what he’s doing when he steps in the (batter’s) box. That’s so special, and he’s had that since his freshman year.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr