As a freshman, Ardrey Kell’s Cam Brantley batted .450, drove in 38 runs and hit five home runs in making the all-state baseball team.
This season, teams have focused on feeding him a variety of pitch speeds, or have outright pitched around him. His numbers are down – .333 batting average, one home run 23 RBIs – but the sophomore outfielder’s affect on the game isn’t.
Ardrey Kell coach Hal Bagwell calls Brantley a special talent, and area coaches agree.
“Oh, I love that kid,” said Marvin Ridge coach Mark Mennitt, who led his team to last season’s 3A state title. “That dude’s got serious talent. He can go as far as he wants.”
South Mecklenburg coach Jon Tuscan, who led his team to the 2013 N.C. 4A championship, said Brantley makes coaches and pitchers nervous when he comes to the plate.
“If you can keep him to (hitting) 2-for-3 without giving up an extra base hit,” Tuscan said, “well, that’s a good day.”
At 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds, Brantley possesses a rare blend of speed and power. Mennitt marvels at Brantley’s “gap-to-gap power,” an ability to hit with power to both right-center and left-center.
“Cameron has been identified as one of our top hitters,” coach Bagwell said. “Coaches plan on being careful with him so he won’t do damage and change the game. It opens up our other guys.
“He got pitched around a lot early (this season) and started a little slow, but he still maintained his composure and has gotten a few more pitches to hit the second half of the season.”
Brantley and the Knights (20-8) will visit nationally ranked rival Providence (25-1) in the second round of the 4A playoffs Saturday at 7 p.m.
It will be the teams’ fourth postseason meeting.
Providence, the 1995 and 2015 state champion, won in the fourth round in 2014. Ardrey Kell, the 2009 state champion, won in the regional final in 2008 and in the third round in 2009.
Playing against the Panthers, Brantley said, is one reason he wanted to attend Ardrey Kell.
“It’s probably the biggest rivalry in the city if not the state,” Brantley said. “It’s a great atmosphere. The intensity is way up. It’s just about the great players that come out of the schools and the great coaches and how they prepare us for this moment.
“And they’re 10 minutes away, and they won state last year. We want to take it from them.”
Brantley said he is being recruited by most of the larger Carolinas’ Division I schools and has two ACC scholarship offers, though he declined to name the colleges.
He’s also done well in the classroom, where he has a 3.9 grade-point average while taking five honors courses among eight classes.
And, on the field, the 16-year-old has some clear goals for his career, which includes playing professional baseball out of high school, he said.
“Just to be the best player to ever come out of Ardrey Kell, to leave my mark,” he said. “I have to keep preparing and working hard and trying to get better.”
Bagwell marvels at Brantley’s maturity and work ethic. Almost daily, the coach said, Brantley works to improve an area of his game.
“He’s a relentless worker and he’s got some individual goals that are lofty that he’ll reach if he stays the course,” Bagwell said. “Understand, to come into our program and start as a freshman is a tall task, and to do that and excel and be an all-state player as a freshman?
“We’ve never had that. As a freshman and a sophomore, we’ve not had a player as productive as Cameron has been.”
South Meck’s Tuscan said Brantley’s best baseball is ahead of him.
“For him to be doing this as young as he is and as strong as he is ... he’s got a chance to be one of the better players from around here in awhile,” Tuscan said.
“You don’t see sophomores that physical. You see guys with tools, but he’s got both. He’s got the tools and the physicality to be something really, really special.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr