Rogers pitches like a rising star

Published 6:27 am Tuesday, March 21, 2023

By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

The Davie varsity baseball team’s first game against vaunted East Forsyth was an absolute dud. Davie mustered one hit and suffered its worst loss (13-0) in nine years.

My, oh my, how the tables turned two days later. On the same day that Furman and Princeton pulled off major upsets in the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament, the hungry and ticked off War Eagles offered some March Madness of their own. Braeden Rodgers turned in an astounding mound performance, Coy James produced two hits and Davie redeemed itself 5-1.

Dear reader, you are seeing that correctly. The War Eagles responded from their worst loss since 2014 with a triumph over the No. 2-ranked team in the 4-A West. We note again: baseball is a funny game.

“We played like I’ve been waiting for us to play for a long time,” coach Joey Anderson said. “It wasn’t like they gave it to us. We played better than they did. That’s a statement win. The (Central Piedmont Conference) is going to be wide open.”

EF 13, Davie 0

The March 14 game in Kernersville was quite forgettable for the War Eagles. It was 0-0 through two innings, but the game turned dark in the bottom of the third as East looked every bit the part of a state-championship contender.

Davie had no chance against Ethan Norby, a senior lefthander who has signed with East Carolina. In five innings, he walked none and struck out eight. Davie’s only hit was Parker Aderhold’s leadoff single in the fifth. Summing up Davie’s day, Aderhold was promptly erased by a 4-6-3 double play as its team batting average dropped to .231 (31 for 134).

Davie starter Jaydon Holder only faced seven batters in the first two innings, but Davie wilted in the third and fourth, when East scored five and eight runs, respectively. The miserable day included four Davie errors. (Its pitching staff allowed 24 runs in the first six games, but only 10 were earned.)

It was the seventh straight loss to East, and it was the largest margin of defeat since a 13-0 blowout from Alexander Central in 2014.

Davie 5, EF 1

The rematch at Davie on March 16 saw two lefthanders take the mound. One of them was a Louisville signee, the other an unheralded junior. One of them hurled a two-hitter, and that guy’s name was Braeden Rodgers, who outdueled Braxton Stewart as Davie pulled a stunner against a squad with 14 seniors (Davie has five).

Rodgers’ first two starts was a mixed bag. He gave up one run in each and struck out 14. On the flip side, he only lasted four innings each time as he issued 10 walks.

The coaching staff spotted a flaw in his mechanics and Rodgers put in extra practice time to get right. The result was a monstrous game: a complete-game two-hitter, two walks, 86 pitches.

“We saw something in his first two starts,” Anderson said. “We noticed he was trying to power through his front side. I told him it was his time. We needed him and he needed it for himself to figure it out. He got with (assistant coach Joey) Cress earlier in the week, and he wanted to figure it out. When we moved the game up (from Friday to Thursday), Cress was a little nervous. He was like: ‘Hey, look, I haven’t finalized everything.’ He had a five-day plan.

“It just clicked. That’s what we’ve been waiting on and expecting out of Braeden for a while. We’d seen glimpses of it in practice and in games. I was really happy that he got to see what we’ve all been waiting on.”

East’s offense went down 1-2-3 in the second and the seventh. Rodgers faced four batters in the first, third, fourth and sixth. He averaged 12.2 pitches per inning, upped his record to 2-0 and lowered his ERA to 0.93 through 15 innings.

“Man, he earned it,” Cress said. “After battling through his last two starts, we discovered a mechanical issue that was effecting his command. In the week since his last start, he devoted countless hours to addressing the issue – and it paid off big time. He had everything (working), and we used everything.”

James singlehandedly gave Rodgers a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. After fouling off three pitches, he mashed a double. He moved to third on a passed ball and he scored on a wild pitch.

“Coy had a great first at-bat,” Anderson said. “He fouled off some tough pitches.”

Davie (4-3, 2-2 CPC) broke it open in the third. Cooper Bliss singled on the first pitch. Three more singles followed (Drew Krause, James and Parker Simmons). Courtesy runner Craig McBride scored on a passed ball. Davin Whitaker plated one with a sac fly. A strike-three pitch that got by the catcher allowed the fourth run of the inning to cross. It was now 5-0.

James, a sophomore who has gone hitless in back-to-back games just once in his Davie career, went 2 for 3 to boost his average to .571 (12-21). Simmons, who moved from the nine hole to second, went 1-3. And the bottom of the order played a major role. Ty Goodson, who dropped from second to seventh, went 1-3. Bliss and Krause (.333) both went 1-2 as Davie made the most of six hits.

“I moved Simmons to second just because most of the time he puts the ball in play,” Anderson said. “I moved Ty to the seven hole trying to get him some confidence. Drew has been swinging it pretty well. He’s attacking the ball. I moved him to the nine hole, thinking we would benefit from having more speed (from courtesy-runner McBride) in front of Coy.”

Bliss, the left fielder, put a bow on the first win over East since 2019 by throwing out a runner in the fifth. A hit got East on the board, but Bliss fired a strike to home, and Krause’s tag ended the inning. East, which came in 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the CPC, would only manage one more baserunner.

“If they get that second run, it could have changed the game,” Anderson said. “We had just worked on that the day before because Cooper had been pulling up a little early when he was fielding the ball. We worked an extra 30 minutes after practice on trying to stay down. They call it a pro step now instead of a crow hop. That kept the momentum on our side, plus it pumped (his teammates) up.”

Notes: Stewart, who went five innings, walked one and struck out nine in defeat. … Davie pitchers have a sparkling 1.77 ERA with 53 Ks in 43.1 innings. … Cress and veteran assistant Ross Hoffner work together during games. “Ross calls pitches and Joey sits beside of him, tracks the pitches and sees what they’re hitting and what they’re not,” Anderson said. “Both of them called a tremendous game. There was only one time I went over there and said anything. We had hit their eight-hole batter twice and I said: ‘Hey, let’s not go inside because I don’t want to hit him again.’”