KERNERSVILLE -- The East Forsyth High School baseball team doesn’t beat teams with a sledge hammer.
Through 21 games, the Eagles have hit only two home runs. They don’t have a single pitcher capable of overpowering with fastballs around 90 miles an hour, which these days, it seems most strong teams have at least one of.
But through those 21 games, the Eagles are 18-3 and with some big wins under their belts. And while they lost 3-0 to Southwest Guilford last Friday, their only setback in a 7-1 run through the Piedmont Triad 4-A, they remain one game ahead of Northwest Guilford, the team they will play this Friday for the conference title in the final game of the regular season.
It’s apparent that in their second season under veteran Coach Jim Hyatt, the Eagles – despite a lack of muscle – have figured out what they needed to be a serious threat when the NCHSAA Class 4-A playoffs start in two weeks.
“We are pretty solid,” Hyatt said. “Three, four, five guys and no one is overpowering but we go out and throw strikes and make plays behind them. We’ve not made a lot of mistakes; our kids don’t walk a lot of people.”
Senior Matt Hailey has been the catalyst for a deep pitching staff. Though Hyatt said Hailey – who has signed with Belmont Abbey – has surpassed his expectations, forging a 6-0 record. He’s only one of many players who have helped the Eagles quietly build momentum.
Hailey said that he did everything he could in the offseason to increase his strength and velocity, and he now throws a fastball in the mid-80s.
The workouts also infused him with confidence – he forged his way into the everyday lineup as a left fielder when Hyatt gave him a chance, and he came up with a 4-for-4 performance. He is batting .340.
“I was just expecting to get playing time but not be a starting pitcher, maybe a relief pitcher,” Hailey said. “Then I got a start and did good and just stayed with it.”
There are plenty of unsung and unexpected producers for the Eagles, and one of the biggest is Tyler Howerton, a first-year varsity catcher who is among the academic leaders of East’s junior class.
East’s starting catcher from last year transferred, and Howerton has handled East’s accurate pitching staff with aplomb. Not to mention, as a ground ball and line drive hitter, he is among the team leaders with a .360 average.
“After the fall we started doing our workouts and everyone thought we would win (this season),” Howerton said. “We do so much more in the fall than anyone else. The workouts aren’t super hard but we ran every day and did things you don’t really have to do in baseball.
“If everyone was on at the same time, I think we could beat anyone, but normally it could be anyone. It could be our one through four hitters or it could be the bottom of the lineup.”
As for the pitching staff, Howerton said all of the Eagles pitch smart.
“They are pitching very well,” Howerton said. “They hit all their spots pretty much, and we haven’t had any balls that are real wide pitches. There are so many pitchers (that) there are guys who could start at other places in our conference.”
When Hyatt replaced Allen Plaster as head coach in 2014 – Plaster is now East’s athletic director – it was a change the players had to get used to. Hyatt came to East with 20 years of coaching under his belt, including 19 at West Henderson, a sterling overall record of 421-80.
“I thought last year being new I didn’t know the kids and didn’t have history with them,” Hyatt said. “Last year we were 6-7 at one point, and we finished 15-11. So we came back and won 9 of the last 13 and reached championship game of the conference tournament and backed into state playoffs.
“Sometimes when you are successful, you don’t have to kill everybody. It’s been because they have consistently been able to throw it across the plate and they have caught it. It’s not like anyone here is overpowering folks with Division I talent. We don’t have anyone right now that’s signed Division I. We just have work ethic, hard-working, hard-nosed kids who are buying into the team thing.”
As the regular season draws to a close, Hyatt is confidence in what his team has become. The Eagles are working with what they’ve been given, and they are going it well.
“About 80-percent of our hits are singles,” Hyatt said. “And we have 20 bunt singles among them. We are trying to get them to understand team at-bats, move people over, get a run.
“We don’t run that much, but we have stolen 26 of 27 bases. We run when we think we can make it. I am not big on making outs on the bases. We will sacrifice to move runners over.
“We are not doing anything great, and we are not doing anything terrible. We are doing a little bit of everything really good.”
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