McDowell Titan head baseball coach Alex Smith said the ideal number of sophomores on the varsity roster is two, maybe three.
Six is normally out of the question. But 2019 isn’t exactly a normal year for the Titans.
“Because of numbers, we have to have them,” said the Smith, whose team went 11-14 a year ago and finished in a three-way tie for fourth in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference with a 6-8 league mark. “But the fact is, they’re pretty good players. They’ll do a good job. We’re going to count on them to carry a big load, but they’re going to be capable of doing it. They’re going to learn a lot about the speed of the game, and they’ll have to grow up fast.”
And it isn’t like the youngsters won’t have some quality upperclassmen from which to take their cues. The Titans feature a four-man senior class in which Smith implicitly believes. Josh Maddux, Brycen Seymore, Kell Smith and Juan Campos are like coaches on the field, according to Coach Smith.
“Our senior class is four of the best leaders I have ever had,” said the 12th-year head coach whose club opens the campaign at home against Owen Wednesday night. “Every senior is a vocal and inspirational leader. The younger ones listen to them and respect them.”
Joining those four seniors will be juniors Justin Dula, Gage Gentry and Billy Cessna, along with sophomores Ethan Hamm, Justin Davis, Three Young, Cyrus Black, Chapel Matson and Ethan Davis.
It’s a young roster to be sure, but it’s also packed with versatility, with several players who can play multiple positions. It’s also a coachable group.
“They’re a great group to work with,” said Smith. “I’ve never had a group where all 13 are at every single function we have, all the workouts. They’re really bought in and are listening to what we say.
“I hope we’ll be the type of team that is much better at the end of the year than at the start. I hope other teams see us and how young we are, but still know they can’t play badly and beat that bunch; they’re going to have to play well. But also, we’re going to have to play really well in order to win in our league.”
Playing well for any baseball team starts with getting the other team out, and the Titans have a number of options on the mound.
Campos heads up the pitching staff after a solid junior campaign in which he went 1-4 with a save and a 4.36 earned run average. Campos is a veteran, working 43 1/3 innings as a junior, second only to graduated senior Matt Smith. Campos fanned 39 hitters, and Smith said the right-hander, who signed to play at King University in the offseason, is throwing harder this year.
Seymore, who will be the team’s every-day shortstop again this season as in 2018, will also log plenty of innings on the mound. Seymore was 2-1 a year ago with a 3.09 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings. Seymore, a Virginia Wesleyan signee, became a reliable hurler for Burke Post 21 during the American Legion season last summer.
Matson, a sophomore, is also expected to be part of the rotation and will also work out of the bullpen. Cessna, a lefty with a three-quarter to sidearm delivery, will be counted on in short relief. Maddux went 2-1 with a 4.57 ERA in 11 innings of work last season. Ethan Davis had four varsity starts as a freshman, going 2-1 with a 6.87 ERA in 17 1/3 innings.
In addition, Justin Davis, Hamm and Dula will be available to pitch, giving the Titans a deep, if somewhat unproven, staff.
Unfortunately, Kell Smith, the Titans’ experienced catcher and only returning all-conference player, will spend the year on the shelf. Smith, who has signed with Wingate, had surgery to repair a shoulder injury in the offseason and will miss the season.
Dula, a transfer from Patton, is a top candidate to replace Smith. The nephew of former Titan great Charles Young, Dula has some pop in his bat. Black, a fundamentally sound sophomore, will also likely catch some innings.
In the infield, Seymore (.134, 6 RBIs) provides stability at shortstop. Maddux (.221, 10 RBIs, 14 R), who played center field last season, moves to third and has been impressive in the early going.
Matson is a slick-fielding second baseman with good feet who Smith said reminds him of another former Titan star, Justin Dalton. Matson will play shortstop when Seymore is on the hill. Dula will play some at first base when he isn’t behind the plate.
Justin Davis provides depth at first and Ethan Davis is a solid option at third.
Three Young takes over for Maddux in centerfield, and is one of four Titan outfielders who can all play center, right and left. Hamm, a left-handed hitter, should start in left and Gentry, an offensive standout as a jayvee, will play right field. Maddux gives McDowell another choice in center.
Not surprisingly, little is set in stone when it comes to the lineup. Matson could become a serviceable leadoff man, while Maddux figures to hit in the No. 2 spot with Seymore hitting third and Dula protecting him.
Coach Smith said Gentry and Ethan Davis could fit in around the middle of the order. Some of the younger players will likely hit lower in the lineup where they should see plenty of fastballs.
Assisting Smith will be Jeremy Freeman, Patrick Davidson, formerly of West McDowell Middle School, and former Titan player Tyler Walker.
McDowell High baseball schedule 2019
Feb. 27 Owen
March 1 @Patton
March 5 St. Stephens*
March 6 R-S Central
March 8 South Caldwell*
March 12 @Watauga*
March 13 Patton
March 15 Alex. Central*
March 19 @West Caldwell*
March 20 Mitchell
March 22 @Hickory*
March 26 Freedom*
March 29 @St. Stephens*
Apr. 2 @South Caldwell*
Apr. 3 Draughn
Apr. 5 Watauga*
Apr. 9 @Alex. Central*
Apr. 11 @R-S Central#
Apr. 12 West Caldwell*
Apr. 15 Hickory*
Apr. 17 @Freedom*
Apr. 23 South Brunswick
Apr. 24 @Owen
Apr. 25 Asheville Trailblazers
All games 4 p.m. (JV) and 6:30 (varsity) except #-4, 7 p.m.
*Northwestern 3A/4A Conference game