Before the 2016 high school baseball season began, Lake Norman Charter senior Cole Kepley wondered just how far behind he had fallen.
Instead of his normal preparations, Kepley spent most of the off-season sidelined with a bad case of tonsillitis.
While the down time didn’t help Kepley’s pitching skills, it sure didn’t do any harm when he was swinging a bat.
In the opening weeks of the 2016 season, Kepley has emerged as one of the region’s better hitter. He’s sporting a .562 batting average as the Knights have gotten off to a 5-0 start overall and 2-0 in the Big South 2A-3A.
“I’m not really sure what’s happened,” said Kepley, a three-year starter for Lake Norman Charter. “I hadn’t really hit since last season. It’s just natural, I guess. I’m seeing the ball well, better than last year.”
To compare, Kepley hit .241 last season as the Knights advanced to the third round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs and finished 17-6.
“I knew he was going to be a big part of this team his senior year,” Lake Norman Charter coach Chet Korczynski said. “But I couldn’t predict him to start off as well as he did at the plate, which is great.
“He’s a senior now, and he wants to be that guy to step up has kind of made him where he is right now.”
While missing out on playing baseball during the fall and winter months – his normal routine – because of the tonsillitis, Kepley said he made up for it by spending more time in the weight room.
“I was out for a good while,” said Kepley, who had his tonsils removed as a result. “I was really weak, and had dropped a lot of weight. So I just lifted weights and got my weight back.
“I eventually started throwing, but hitting wise – no, I didn’t really start hitting until we got back out here (for Lake Norman Charter’s practices).”
The time off doesn’t appear to have affected his pitching – Kepley is the Knights’ ace, with a 3-0 record and 0.00 ERA in three appearances this season – and certainly didn’t affect his hitting.
Last year, Kepley had 14 hits in 58 at-bats, with 12 runs scored and six RBIs; this season, he’s already equaled his RBI numbers from 2015, and is closing rapidly on his hits total (he has nine so far).
“I was really surprised – I thought I’d be rusty at first, but it’s been clicking,” Kepley said. “Pitching wise, I’m still a little rusty with my off-speed pitches … but at the plate, I’m seeing the ball well.”
Kepley attributes that not so much to his physical skills, but an improved confidence at the plate.
“It’s just mindset and confidence,” Kepley said. “Baseball has a lot to do with mindset. I’m more calm up there than I was last year.”
But it’s also Kepley’s last go-round.
With no college offers on the horizon, Kepley’s resigned to the fact that this may be the last time he plays organized baseball.
“There’s a certain point when you’ve got to realize the game’s over, and you can’t play anymore,” Kepley said. “I’ve been playing since I was 4 years old, and it’s going to be different when I’m not playing. So I’m really trying to give everything I’ve got.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org