Baseball off to best start in 6 years

Published 9:45 am Thursday, March 14, 2019

If you’re keeping score, here’s eight days in the new life of Davie’s first-year varsity baseball coach, Bradley Rudisill.

Davie won 5-1 over Carson on Feb. 27, 7-1 over Alexander Central on March 2, 5-0 over East Rowan on March 4, 15-5 over South Iredell on March 5 and 7-1 over the Charlotte Stampede on March 6.

In other words: Wow. You read that right. The early games came thick and fast and Davie raced to 5-0 in eight dizzying days. This represents the finest start in six years. (In former coach Bobby Byerly’s first year in 2013, Davie started 5-0.) That’s no small accomplishment considering the caliber of competition that Davie has largely faced.

The numbers are blistering hot. The pitching staff’s ERA is 1.27 with 50 strikeouts against 12 walks in 33 innings. Davie has doubled opponents in hits, 40-20. It is hitting .325.

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The War Eagles picked up a marquee win, 5-0 over visiting East Rowan, on March 4. The Mustangs entered 2-0 with one-run wins over Cox Mill and Mooresville. They won between 15 and 22 games from 2014-18.

“That could be a statement in the state of North Carolina, beating a team like that,” Rudisill said. “I watched East Rowan play Mooresville (in a 3-2 East win). They faced a lefthander going to ECU, and they faced a closer that will probably be a draft pick come June. We knew we couldn’t have any types of letdowns. We really locked in and got the job done.”

Carson Whisenhunt was dominant again in his second start on the mound, giving up one hit in six innings, walking two and striking out 12. He improved to 2-0 and maintained a 0.00 ERA. It was the third time in his varsity career that he collected double-figure Ks, including 11 in 4.1 innings in an 11-8 win over Glenn in April 2018 and 12 in an 11-1, five-inning win over Parkland in April 2017.

Justin Chaffin completed the shutout by striking out two in the seventh. It was his second shutdown relief appearance of the young season.

“Carson was phenomenal,” Rudisill said. “In the years I’ve been coaching, that was one of the top pitching performances I’ve seen. He didn’t have his offspeed as well as he would like to, but he challenged them with the fastball and was able to command the strike zone. He was begging to go back out in the seventh.”

Davie broke through in the third. Garrett Chandler walked on a fullcount pitch and advanced on a wild pitch. With two outs, Joe Johnson dumped a RBI double down the right-field line.

Davie broke it open in the fourth. Troy Clary walked and stole second. With two outs, Hunter Bowles doubled with two strikes as  there appeared to be miscommunication between two outfielders. After Chandler walked, Aaron Williams blasted a two-run double to the warning track in left.

Davie made the most of four hits. Although it struck out 11 times, it drew six walks in a frigid game with the game-time temperature at 38 degrees.

“We have faced three really good opponents (in Carson, Alexander Central and E. Rowan),” he said. “I would say all three will be competing in the state playoffs come May.”

At this point, Williams was 4 for 9 with two doubles, two triples and two walks. “He’s got a very good approach,” Rudisill said. “He has a lot of power. He’s one of our most complete hitters.”

This was the first Davie-ER meeting in eight years. In 2011, Davie outlasted East 19-14.

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Williams continued his tear at the plate and Whisenhunt homered in Davie’s graveyard ballpark, which is always noteworthy, as the War Eagles eased past South Iredell, 15-5 in five innings, on March 5. The temperature was again in the 30s.

Jacob Campbell (2-2, three runs, two RBIs, double, walk) and Spencer Nifong (2-2, two runs, two RBIs, walk) had two hits each. Williams walked and doubled. Clary doubled and scored twice as Davie put up 11 hits and scored seven runs in the first and six in the second to raise its batting average from .250 to .298.

It was the fifth extra-base hit in four games for Williams, who had over half of Davie’s extra-base hits at this point.

Whisenhunt connected for Davie’s first homer of the season. There are college teams that don’t play on fields as big as Davie’s, and Davie has hit two dingers at the 2-year-old ballpark. Whisenhunt owns both, the other coming against East Forsyth on April 20, 2018.

John Davenport (2 IP), Clary (2 IP) and Chandler (1 IP) all made their first varsity mound appearances for Davie and combined for a seven-hitter. Davenport got the win.

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Davie earned yet another no-doubt-about-it win over the visiting Charlotte Stampede, 7-1, on March 6.

“They are a very solid team,” Rudisill said. “They played Crest their first game and scored five runs (in 15-5 defeat), and Crest has been to back-to-back 3-A state championships. They hit two home runs off an ECU commit, so I knew they were going to be a solid hitting team.”

But they couldn’t handle Nifong, who went six innings in 89 pitches. He spun a two-hitter with two walks and eight Ks. The junior lefty is 2-0 with a 1.27 ERA. Reliever Anthony Azar worked around two hits in a scoreless seventh. It was his first mound appearance in a Davie uniform.

“Spencer’s velocity is up to 81-82, but he’s a pitcher,” Rudisill said. “He can command three pitches for a strike. Batters don’t really get comfortable in the box with him because he will throw any of the pitches in any count. Against Crest, they only had two strikeouts against another lefthander who is going to ECU. For Spencer to rack up eight strikeouts against a very good hitting team, I was very impressed by that.”

It was a 2-0 game going into the fifth. Then … kaboom. Davie poured across five runs to win going away.

“We had three or four really solid at-bats that sparked us,” he said. “It started with a Whisenhunt single. Then Johnson hit a double off (the left-field) wall. Things started rolling from there.”

Chandler (3-3, walk) and Whisenhunt (3-3, two RBIs, double) were big factors offensively. Hunter Meacham doubled and Williams drove in two runs.

Chandler, who came in 1 for 11, raised his average from .090 to .285.

“I watched videos from the past three games on his swing,” he said. “I focussed on him being flat through the zone with his barrel. He was trying to force elevation. I told him to just think about hitting the ball hard, drive it and let things take care of themselves. He was very successful doing that.”

Whisenhunt also did major work on his average, going from 2 for 9 and .222 to .416.

“His approach has completely changed,” he said. “He hit the home run yesterday, and today his first at-bat he goes opposite field off the wall. Then they tried to pound him inside and he was able to turn on one.”

Davie’s top hitters are Williams at .428 (6-14), Whisenhunt at .416 (5-12), Bowles at .375 (3-8), Azar at .333 (4-12) and Johnson at .333 (5-15). Williams is also first with six RBIs. Nifong is 2 for 2 on the year, while Will Cheek and Meacham are both 1-1.