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A pair of savvy juniors stepped past a group of high-achieving seniors to land the top 2019 3-A Big East Conference baseball awards.
Junior pitcher-third baseman Tyson Bass of runner-up Hunt High was proclaimed player of year in a vote of the conference’s six head coaches and junior right-hander Chad Bean of champion Fike repeated as pitcher of the year.
“It feels good,” Bass expressed. “I didn’t think I was going to get it. I could have played a lot better, but I got the job done.”
Hunt head coach Jon Smith contended that, at some point, Bass would be rewarded for his hard work and commitment in recovering from an injury that hampered him last season.
“Tyson got healthy last fall and put in the work,” Smith commended. “He woke up and went to bed thinking about baseball. He had a good year.”
BASS AND BEAN
On the mound, Bass, a right-hander, posted a 7-3 record with one save and a 2.14 earned run average. He pitched one complete game and one shutout. In 55 2/3 innings, Bass struck out 59 and walked 18.
At the plate, Bass batted .390 (30 of 77), scored 20 runs, drove in 13 and slugged six doubles and a home run. He excelled defensively.
Bean’s credentials included a 9-1 record, one save and a 3.05 ERA. In 59 1/3 innings, Bean allowed only 33 hits and eight walks while striking out 66. In conference games, Bean stood 4-0 with a save and a 2.48 ERA. He improved his career Golden Demons record to a staggering 19-1-2.
“I didn’t know it,” Bean said upon learning of the distinction. “I’m happy because I had two rough games at the end of the conference season. But I had a lot of good games and it all balanced out.”
Fike head coach Buck Edmundson explained Bean was not expected to improve upon a phenomenal sophomore season.
“We just told him to continue to be you and do the best you can,” Edmundson said. “He stayed consistent, threw a lot of strikes and continued to get better. But I don’t know you could have had a better season than he had last year.”
BIG EAST LINEUP
Fike, which notched a sensational 22-2 record and reached the fourth round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs, paced the all-conference lineup with six selections.
Bean was joined by senior shortstop-pitcher Zach Pittman, junior infielder-pitcher Hunter Stokely, senior first baseman-pitcher Tanner Sullivan, senior catcher Garrett Browder and sophomore utility specialist Colton Moats.
The Warriors placed Bass, and a trio of sophomores — catcher Chase Waddell, utility performer Blaize Keen and pitcher-first baseman Jarrett Aycock.
Third-place Rocky Mount is represented by junior third baseman-pitcher Ben Sieracki, sophomore third baseman-pitcher Evan Hart, senior first baseman Austin Luttrell and junior outfielder Connor Powell.
Southern Nash’s selections are senior outfielder Jason Montague and junior shortstop A.J. Jones.
Completing the elite unit are senior second baseman-pitcher Layton Perry, junior outfielder Aiyon Burrell and senior infielder-pitcher Tanner Dixon of fourth-place Franklinton; and senior first baseman-pitcher Aaron Gerlach of last-place Northern Nash.
Repeat selections from 2018 were Browder, Pittman, Montague, Hart, Powell and Gerlach while Stokely and Southern Nash’s Jones landed on the elite unit in 2017.
Accorded honorable mention were junior Mason Lee of Fike,sophomore Gavin Huff of Hunt, senior Sam Mills of Rocky Mount, senior Josh Barron of Franklinton, senior Jonathan Stallings of Southern Nash and senior Ben Heacox of Northern Nash.
Fike’s Edmundson repeated as coach of the year and claimed the accolade for the third time in his six years as the Demons’ head coach.
BY THE NUMBERS
Bean also emerged a mainstay in the game-by-game lineup, playing a position and batting .375 with 12 RBIs and a .412 on-base percentage.
Pittman, a four-year starter, batted an eye-popping .482 with 12 RBIs, two doubles, two triples, a home run. six stolen bases and a dazzling .917 fielding percentage in conference games. In a pitching role, he was 1-1 with three saves and an 0.88 ERA.
Stokely batted a torrid .583 with a .615 on-base percentage, five doubles, a triple and seven RBIs in conference play. He pitched four scoreless innings with five strikeouts.
Sullivan wound up, in conference games, with a .455 batting average .526 on-base percentage and 12 RBIs. The left-handed pitcher went 3-0 with a 3.74 ERA, striking out 22 in 25 innings.
Browder hit .395 with a lofty .580 on-base percentage, five doubles, a homer and nine RBIs.
Moats was a .310 hitter against conference foes and managed a .465 on-base percentage, two doubles and three RBIs.
Hunt’s Keen compiled a .368 batting average (25 of 68) with 21 runs, eight RBIs, six doubles and seven stolen bases. Aycock hit .303 (23 of 76) with 11 runs, 12 RBIs and seven doubles. Waddell wound up a .296 hitter (21 of 71) with 18 runs, 18 RBIs, four doubles and a homer.
Southern Nash’s Montague sizzled with a .462 batting average (30 of 65), 26 runs, 25 RBIs, eight doubles, a Big East-leading five homers and 10 stolen bases in as many attempts. Jones batted .411 (23 of 56) with 17 runs, 14 RBIs, five doubles, two triples, three homers and 10 stolen bases in as many tries.
Fike has piled up 43 wins the last two seasons and stand 6 8-31 during the careers of four-year varsity players Pittman and Myles Cyrus.
The Warriors wound up 18-6 and reached the third round of the playoffs. In the third round, Bass drew the starting mound assignment and failed to complete the first inning against victorious Fayetteville Terry Sanford.
“That one still hurts,” he lamented.
Bass joins Jacob Williamson, Bryson Worrell, Jacob Page, Parker Lamm, Isaiah White, Zach Houchins and Dom Gaetano as Hunt players who have been honored as conference players of the year the last decAde. Like Bass, Williamson, Houchins and Gaetano were third basemen.
“They all could play when they came through Hunt,” Bass noted.
Bass emphasized player of the year was not his goal after a tough sophomore year.
“I just wanted to win baseball games,” he responded, “win playoff games and help everybody win.”
BETTER THAN EXPECTED
Bass was not completely satisfied with his defense and hitting, but declared: “I pitched better than I expected.”
However, Smith credited Bass for “game-changing plays” at third base and game-turning hits.
“Coming into the season, he was our No 3 or No. 4 pitcher,” Smith reminded. “He stepped up and became No. 1. I’m still having a hard time thinking he’s a pitcher.”
Hunt’s head coach said he would be reluctant to rate Bass more valuable to the team as a pitcher, hitter or defender.
“He started out cold (with his hitting) but had a really solid year,” Smith commented.
Hunt’s coach hailed Bass for his baseball IQ and assured he knows the game.
“He had a good year,” Smith summarized. “He wishes it had been better and the outcome had been better.”
LITTLE BIT TOUGHER
Bean noted that his sophomore year was easier because his role had not been defined. Still, he contended he didn’t sense more pressure with the realization he was going to be counted upon as one of Fike’s top pitchers.
“This year has been a little bit tougher,” Bean acknowledged. “Different preparation but same goal — go out there, throw strikes and get outs. I thought I threw the ball good. I got stronger and had more velocity.”
Bean insists his pitching didn’t suffer because of his responsibilities as a hitter and field player.
“It was more fun to get out there, play every single game and know l had a spot in the lineup,” he said.
A definite edge for Bean, said Edmundson, is his mental approach as a pitcher.
“He’s very calm and cool,” Edmundson said, “and moments don’t get too big for him.”
Edmundson explains Bean throws with fastball velocity in the mid-80s and his unorthodox delivery (throwing across his body) especially bothers right-handed hitters (pitches are upon them deceptively quick).
Bearn’s season was highlighted by his first career no-hitter against archrival Hunt.
COACH OF YEAR
Regarding his coach-of-the-year recognition, Edmundson hailed his players’ performance on the field and the contributions of his support staff of Brian Massey, Chris Pittman, Robert Stokely and Charlie Vaughan for a splendid 22-2 record and postseason advance into the 2-A final eight.
“Fifteen, 16 wins are tough to do,” Edmundson reasoned. “When you win 15, 16 games, you give yourself a shot at the postseason and being at the top of your conference. I’ve had two straight 20-win seasons because of a special group.
“Obviously, you have got to have good players. You can prepare and practice, but they have to do it on the field. I feel like I work hard and I probably do a better job now with the situational stuff. The Xs and Os are on me.”
Edmundson suggested his biggest 2019 role was handling the pitchers, such as being certain they were healthy and properly rested, keeping abreast of pitch counts, etc.
“It was knowing when to pitch somebody or when not to pitch somebody because of days’ rest,” Edmundson said. “We would pitch certain pitchers against certain teams -— and it worked out for us this year.”