It’s time for part two of the New Year’s Resolutions, this time moving on to the spring sports.
Before getting to how each team can improve, there were plenty of great moments, whether they were on the tennis court, baseball, soccer, or softball field in 2015.
For baseball, conference rivals clashed in the middle of May, with the winner moving on to the Final Four of the playoffs. Just to get to that point, both teams had quite a journey that made the end of the season so memorable. First, there was East Wilkes, who were perhaps playing for something larger than themselves.
Head Coach Todd Welborn passed away in the offseason, meaning the team under the direction of Athletic Director Justin Call would have to pull together without the leader they had come to know and love. Just to get to the fourth round of the playoffs, the team had to win every game on the road, and did so in thrilling fashion.
Their rival? Elkin High School. The Buckin’ Elks had some cards stacked against them at the start of the season, with only one senior and a new head coach. However, come playoff time, the team was tough to beat thanks to the phenomenal season that 2014 graduate Daniel Brinegar had. The team found a way to win, and ultimately defeated the East Wilkes Cardinals 7-2 to advance to the Final Four. Their run ended the following week in a loss to South Stanly.
Starmount also had a decent season, but fell in the conference tournament finals, ultimately falling in the second round of the state playoffs to East Surry.
With that, a new season is rapidly approaching, and their outlooks are all promising. However, there are some things that these teams could certainly improve on to take them to the next level. Elkin looks poised to come very close to, if not improve on its performance from last year. Why wouldn’t they? Last year’s Final Four run was the first for the program since 1997. Keep in mind they were playing with a new coach, and they’ve only lost one senior to graduation. Coach Nick Tomlin is back, and this team has the capability to do something special. They’ve got seven seniors on the squad, but the biggest thing that I believe they’ll need to improve is their batting average. Their best hitter from last season is gone, and any team knows that they won’t win if they can’t score. They do that, and couple it with an already impressive defense and this team could make another deep run in the playoffs.
East Wilkes will have a familiar face as their head coach, but it’ll be a different diamond than he’s been used to. Head Coach Bradley Hayes will look to duplicate the success of the softball team that he led to the playoffs last year. He’s got five seniors returning, and reason to believe that they can recreate the magic. To get there, thir resolution is to find out who their pitchers are. Zach Nixon and Will Jolly have both graduated, and the two took up the bulk of the time on the mound. They have at least three players who can be a part of the rotation, and that might be an advantage for them.
Starmount has potential as well. They’re losing the most seniors out of the three teams, but two rising seniors batted greater than .300 last season. They also will have four pitchers with experience from last year. Their resolution? Win the conference tournament and make it past the second round of the state playoffs. They could be like last year’s Elkin team; overlooked and a big threat come playoff time.
East Wilkes fell in the conference tournament final to West Wilkes, and that lit a spark in them to make a run to the third round of the state playoffs. They’ve now lost two seniors, with arguably their biggest lost taking up the center of the diamond. Brandi Parks is now a pitcher at Lenoir-Rhyne University, and it was her leadership that propelled the team as far as they got. This upcoming season should be great for them if they find someone to fill that hole on the mound. They’ll have at least six seniors moving up, all determined to build from last year. Their resolution is to prove to their new coach that they know their stuff. Last year’s coach is now going to be the baseball coach, so it’ll be interesting to see how the team grows around their new leader.
Elkin couldn’t have come any closer to the conference semifinals if it tried. Putting Alleghany down to their last strike, a home run that barely cleared the fence sealed their fate. The girls hit the road against Bessemer City in the first round of the state playoffs, where they managed to scrum together a 3-2 win. They couldn’t duplicate their success a few days later, falling to North Stanly 4-0. The softball and baseball teams were similar in the sense that they didn’t have many seniors on the squad. This year, they’ll have at least three, but one of their biggest leaders this upcoming season will likely be a sophomore. Aspen Shaw was great on the mound in her first season with the team, and there’s promise that she’ll finish her career as one of the best pitchers in the league. Personally, the only look I got from this team was the Alleghany game, and based on that, coupled with the box scores from the playoff games, they need to tighten up on defense. Four errors over two games hurt the team as they struggled to get on base as well.
Starmount will be looking to snap out of their old habits this upcoming season. In the past two, the Rams have closed out the year losing at least their final six games. Considering the majority of their opponents during those times are conference teams, those losses can really deflate a team’s playoff hopes. They’ll have some young talent coming in, and they’re expected to have seven seniors on the roster as well. This team has what it takes to get out of the funk they’ve been in. Whether or not they’ll do it comes down to them.
Lincoln Charter was the common denominator for two of the teams last season, but not in a good way. Lincoln Charter ended the title hopes for Elkin and Starmount in the playoffs, while East Wilkes fell to West Montgomery in the opening round.
Elkin’s loss came in penalty kicks, making the loss sting that much more. They finished the season 15-7. Starmount finished the season 5-13-1, while East Wilkes finished up at 4-14. This year, if there’s one tangible one and if one team does it, all will be well, and that’s to take down Ashe County. The team has only lost three conference games over the past three years, two of those losses coming to Forbush, who’s now in the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference. If any of those teams can pull that off, it’ll be a serious confidence booster that can carry them deep into the playoffs.
Elkin will be missing some seniors, including their top seed in Ryan Schell, but I’m not convinced that it spells doom for the Buckin’ Elks. Right behind him was a freshman in Ryan Macy who likely will do some great things. Ultimately, the team fell to Pine Lake Prep and they’ll be looking to avenge that loss if they can get back to that point. It seems almost certain that Pine Lake Prep will be back, and if Elkin can grow, they will too. Starmount and East Wilkes are projected to be just behind, and their resolution is simply to continue to grow. They have young talent that might take time to develop. Their time could be coming soon.
Ryan DeCosta can be reached at 336-258-4052 or via Twitter @rsdecosta.