The high school baseball season ended earlier than Seth Keener anticipated, but he can still look back on it as a year of growth — and then some.
No state championship was brought to Pilot Mountain. But plenty of Division I offers poured in as Keener, a junior right-handed pitcher, helped East Surry finish the season at 23-3 and advance to the fourth round of the NCHSAA Class 1-A playoffs.
In the previous two seasons in which Keener had appeared on the mound — or in the field at shortstop and second base — no offers were extended his way. From March through May of this season, that changed drastically. Keener received offers from North Carolina, Appalachian State, UNC Greensboro and N.C. State — eventually committing to Wake Forest on May 11 with a Twitter post.
His profile page now sports a cover photo of the locker room at David F. Couch Ballpark, which is only a 30-minute drive from his home. It’s a zoomed-in look at the ceiling light, which is a brightly illuminated school logo spelling out “Wake Forest.”
According to Keener, he attended two showcase events for high school baseball players in North Carolina. The interest from college programs followed soon after.
Both events were organized by Prep Baseball Report, which describes itself as an independent scouting service on its website. Keener attended the Queen City Scout Day, which was held Oct. 13 at Myers Park High School in Charlotte. His fastest pitch was clocked at 88 miles per hour during a throwing session in the bullpen.
But Keener shined during his second appearance in the showcase. He fastball was clocked at 90 mph — his maximum speed — at the North Carolina Preseason All-State event on Jan. 27 in Pineville, which is on the south side of Charlotte.
“After I hit 90, a lot of the schools started reaching out,” Keener said. “I got a lot of phone calls, and then they came out to see me in the spring.”
UNCG was the first school to extend an offer to Keener. Coaches from Wake Forest traveled to East Surry on March 27 to watch him on the mound in an 11-0 nonconference loss against Reagan. He took a recruiting trip April 10 to Wake Forest, his first visit to an ACC program.
Keener, who was recruited by pitching coach John Hendricks, received an offer that day. He said the Deacons watched an additional game, before he committed earlier this month.
“I thought I was closest with the coaches there,” Keener said. “I thought their personalities matched mine, and I think it’s the best opportunity to develop me as a pitcher.
“I just felt like that would be the place where I’d feel the most at home.”
Keener said he was also told the plan was — if he signs with Wake Forest — the team will look to have him on the mound his freshman season.
But he was quick to note that all is contingent on his performance within the offseason and coming year.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work,” said Keener, who also visited Carolina, UNC Charlotte, UNCG and N.C. State. “It all depends on how much I work and how much I develop as a pitcher. So, it’s really up to me.
“They said I have an opportunity to throw — and soon.”
Keener is no stranger to intense training. At least, that was how he grew exponentially before and during the Cardinals’ run to their second straight appearance in the fourth round of the state playoffs. He took the summer between his sophomore and junior years off from AAU baseball.
During that stretch, he spent more time in the weight room and refined his diet, training at Spark Fitness and Performance in King for five days each week during the offseason. That included plenty of protein — and heaps of peanut butter.
Between the end of the 2018 season and the start of the 2019 season, the 6-foot-1 Keener added 40 pounds to bring his weight up to about 180 pounds. Keener said the speed on his fast ball jumped an extra 10 mph.
With the season finished, a college choice made and offers on the table, he’ll approach his senior year with confidence. But there will be no slack when his training begins again this summer.
“I’m going to do the same thing I did last year. I probably won’t gain 40 pounds, but I’ll gain a little bit more weight,” Keener said.
“I’m really excited for next year. I think I may be a lot better, and it’s going to be a fun year.”