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After splitting team varsity baseball honors, archrivals Hunt and Fike High repeated the process when 2018 3-A Big East Conference awards were recently announced.
Versatile senior Dom Gaetano of the tournament-champion Warriors was proclaimed the player of the year, while sophomore right-handed pitcher Chad Bean of regular-season winner Fike emerged the unanimous choice as pitcher of the year.
The Golden Demons paced the 21-player all-conference elite with six selections, followed by Hunt and third-place Southern Nash with four each.
Fike head coach Buck Edmundson was recognized as champion coach of the year.
“I was shocked, really excited,” expressed Gaetano, who was utilized as third base, shortstop, catcher and pitcher. “When you are playing, you are really not thinking about awards. I started out really slow but, about halfway (the season), I started hitting the ball pretty solid and that helped out the team.”
Bean acknowledged he was aware of the pitcher-of-the-year accolade, but said: “I didn’t expect it going into the year. I felt like I had a great year.”
Bean was joined on the all-conference squad by teammates Trevor Mills, a senior; senior Justice Lynn, junior Garrett Brower, junior Myles Cyrus and junior Zach Pittman.
Other Hunt selections were seniors Josh Fuller, Matt Jacobs and Hunter Barnes.
The Firebirds landed seniors Colton Cruz, Leroy Edwards and Alex Noland and junior Jason Montague.
Completing the all-star cast are freshman Evan Hart, junior Victor Ward and sophomore Connor Powell of fourth-place Rocky Mount; freshman Robbie Burnett and junior Nicholas Mitchell of Franklinton and senior Silas Gonzalez and junior Aaron Gerlach of Northern Nash.
Accorded honorable mention were Jaelynn Melton of Fike, Chase Waddell of Hunt, A.J. Jones of Southern Nash, Jamar Ellis of Rocky Mount, Layton Perry of Franklinton and Connor Davenport of Northern Nash.
Fike, Hunt, Southern Nash and Rocky Mount all advanced into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs with only Fike (21-5) surviving the first round. The Demons exited in the third round. The Warriors posted a 16-9 record, while Southern Nash finished 14-11.
Gaetano posted a .352 batting average with eight doubles, 20 runs scored, 14 RBIs and a 7-for-7 effort in stolen bases. As a pitcher, won two and lost none.
Hunt head coach Jon Smith explained Gaetano was most productive during the 10 conference games, batting a lusty .484.
“He had big hits and big RBIs,” Smith declared. “He led off to get things going. I am pretty proud of him; he did a lot of things for us and I feel he is deserving. Dom played a big role in us getting the No. 2 (conference) seed and making it to the playoffs.”
Gaetano, said Smith, stepped up big-time when starting catcher Waddell was injured and Gaetano moved behind the plate.
“He had a little more experience with the pitchers and the bunt plays,” Smith explained. “We put him back there and he did a really good job.”
A varsity performer since his sophomore year, Gaetano earned all-conference acclaim for the first time.
“My favorite position is probably shortstop or third base,” Gaetano revealed. “But I was a catcher until the ninth grade. I got used to playing everywhere. The game is all about confidence.”
The Warriors weathered a poor start and a struggling stretch late in the season.
“We had a turnaround at the end,” Gaetano said, “and we still had a good season. We definitely could have won a couple of those games we lost but (senior year) was pretty satisfying.”
Of the player-of-the-year award, Gaetano responded: “It definitely motivates me to keep working hard and I hope there’s more to come.”
WANTS TWO MORE
The 6-foot, 145-pound Bean hopes to win two more Big East pitcher awards.
As a closer and starter, the right-hander compiled a 9-1 record with three saves and a scant 0.86 earned run average. In 56 2/3 innings, he registered 56 strikeouts and issued 24 walks. Bean limited the opposition to an .186 on-base percentage.
Bean admits he was motivated by not being selected as the top pitcher in the tournament over the Easter break. Thus, when conference play began, he responded with a 5-0 record and 0.69 ERA.
“He had the lowest ERA of anybody I’ve had here,” said fifth-year head coach Edmundson. “He had outstanding numbers and dominated the conference as far as affecting games. Chad was probably our most consistent guy.”
Bean was groomed for relief duty behind senior pitchers Mills and Melton. But when Melton was relieved of mound duties because of an injury, Bean dazzled in a starting role. In 10 conference games, Bean complemented his five wins with two saves.
“Early on, it was so great to bring him into a game early or whenever,” Edmundson commented. “He came into some really tough situations and handled them.. Not a moment was too big for him. With the defense behind him, he got us outs all year. His fastball had so much movement that it gave batters a fit.”
Bean mixed that two-seam fastball with a breaking ball and a change-up. Down in the count, he might work in a four-seam fastball.
Bean noted he has pitched since age 7 or 8 and has worked with Benton Moss of Rocky Mount and the North Carolina Tar Heels. He’s comfortable relieving or starting.
“Whatever the team needed,” he reasoned, “but I kind of like the pressure situations a little more.”
Selected for Region I team in the State Games, Bean notes his biggest rush as a pitcher is “pitching against another team when they have an opportunity for a walk-off win.”
Mills wound up with an 8-2 mound record and 2.17 ERA for Fike. He was 4-0 in conference games. He batted .290 with a pair of home runs and four stolen bases.
Browder batted .406 with two homers, seven doubles and 15 RBI. Lynn hit at a torrid .507 clip. Cyrus wound up with a .433 norm and a homer, while Pittman wound up with a .363 average and six stolen bases.
Hunt’s Fuller hit .303 and made numerous mound appearances as a starter and reliever. Jacobs batted at a .353 clip with two homers. Barnes managed a .203 average and, on the mound, the left-hander went 2-1 with 3.00 ERA.
Southern Nash’s Montague batted .420 with six doubles, two triples and 10 stolen bases. Cruz hit at a .408 pace with seven doubles and two homers. Edwards wound up hitting .327 with seven doubles and, on the mound, compiled a 5-5 record with 3.90 ERA and six complete games. Noland posted a 4-1 pitching mark and hit .321.
“It’s the players,” Edmundson remarked of being tabbed the champion coach. “I was fortunate enough to be able to coach them. I didn’t have to keep them together because they liked one another.”
Numerous goals, said Edmundson, were achieved and a 10-0 conference record was especially pleasing.
“Our goal all year,” he explained, “was to make routine plays and do the routine things. We knew, coming out, we wanted to secure and win the conference. And coming out of the break, we wanted to be playing our best.
“Winning the conference, we achieved that. As far as the conference tournament, we wanted to be healthy for the playoffs. Then, we started talking about a 20-win season _ and we did that. Of course, we would have liked to have made a (playoff) run.
Edmundson and his assistants constantly dealt with injury situations and monitored players’ progress.
“Trying to keep everybody healthy and limiting things at practice for that reason was the most challenging,” Edmundson emphasized.