Sports Shorts for April 13

by Aaron Garcia and Andrew Stark

Toxey-Griffin Classic baseball tourney an even bigger hit this year
Two years ago, Piedmont High School baseball coach Milt Flow and his counterpart at Sun Valley, Rocky Richar, decided to make life a little easier on themselves. Each year, baseball teams use spring break as a time to travel to out-of-town tournaments and get some extra seasoning before the rush of the postseason begins. But Flow and Richar wanted an alternative.

“Coach Flow and I got together and decided we were tired of traveling everywhere to go play for spring break,” Richar said. “We knew we had a lot of good baseball here in the county, so why not host something here?

“We kind of beat (the idea) around. We didn’t want to do it on our own from year to year to year. We figured we could rotate it back and forth and kind of build it into a little bit of a traditional event like a lot of other tournaments are doing.”

In 2011, Piedmont hosted the inaugural Toxey-Griffin Classic baseball tournament, featuring Piedmont, Sun Valley, Porter Ridge and Forest Hills.

The event was a hit, and this year Marvin Ridge, Weddington, North Stanly and Concord joined the fray, which gave the event a daily four-game format, with the first game starting at noon and the last game beginning at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Richar. “I hope we can continue it. So far, so good. We’ve been blessed with some good weather, and we’ve had some good baseball played out here over the course of it this year. We certainly can’t complain.”

As an added bonus, the event has offered Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference teams a break from their newly instituted three-game series schedule, in which each team plays the same opponent for three consecutive games over the span of five days.

While Richar said he has enjoyed his team’s new scheduling format, he added the Toxey-Griffin allows the teams to prepare for a postseason atmosphere, especially with the inclusion of newcomers Concord and North Stanly.

“This is how the playoffs are,” said Richar. “You play teams you don’t know. You don’t know them as coaches, you don’t know them as players. You don’t have that natural rivalry mentality.

“It’s always good to get games in and see different arms and continue to prepare to keep playing good baseball,” Richar continued. “(This will help us) get prepared to play in the conference tournament and the playoffs.”

Pitching benefits Marvin Ridge
When a team features an offense that averages more than 5.5 runs per game, it’s easy to credit the job done at the plate with that squad’s success. And with Marvin Ridge, which currently boasts a 13-4 overall record and 8-1 mark in Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference play, that assertion isn’t far off, as the Mavs feature several players batting well above .300, led by David Weideman (.449), Max Wotell (.398), Zach Kuchmaner (.357) and Derek Smith (.333). Smith also leads the team with 15 RBIs, while Tyler Chadwick has knocked out three home runs.

But the biggest key to the team’s success, said Mavs coach Mark Mennitt, has been the production from the pitching staff.

“I can’t say enough about our pitching,” said Mennitt. “It’s been fantastic. We play good defense behind them, and you’re going to stay in most ball games that way.”

The Mavs have allowed two or fewer runs in 10 of their wins – which includes a no-hitter by Chadwick against Parkwood on March 28 – and have surrendered more than four runs in just one of their games this season. Even their losses have been close, as two of the four have come by 2-1 scores.

And the pitching staff seems to be growing, as freshman Max Wotell has come on strong as a reliever. In a game against Piedmont on April 10, the 6-foot-2 freshman entered the game with a 1-0 lead. After allowing runners to reach first and second base, Wotell fired a passed ball, which advanced the runners to second and third. But Wotell settled down and struck out the next two batters to preserve the lead. An inning later, Wotell retired the side to earn the save.

“He’s a freak – but in a good way,” Mennitt said of Wotell. “He’s been impressive to me. He’s been fun to coach and he’s come a long way. He’s going to continue to improve.”

The pitching depth should come in handy as the Mavs have two three-game series remaining on their schedule, with the first beginning Tuesday, April 17 against Sun Valley.

“What more could you ask for?” said Mennitt. “(Sun Valley is) playing good right now, we’re playing good right now. It should be a great series.”

Mennitt also added that such a pressure-packed series should prepare both teams for the state playoffs.

“When you go to a regional final, that’s what you’re going to play, so you might as well get used to it,” said the coach. “You’ve got to develop arms and you have to get used to the quick turnaround.”

Spartans stay in title hunt
When Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference play resumes on Tuesday, April 17 following Union County Public Schools’ spring break, the Sun Valley baseball team will be sitting in third place in the league with a great chance to climb in the standings during a three-game series against conference leader Marvin Ridge.

Not too shabby for a team featuring only two seniors on its roster.

The Spartans, sporting an 8-6 overall record and a 5-4 league mark, have benefitted from the strong play of their three starting pitchers: Ryan Tapp, Jordan Watts and Ryan Smith. Tapp has amassed a 4-0 record on the year, while Smith has been the team’s ace for Friday night games while also hitting better than .400 as a second baseman. Watts, who also is a first baseman, has been solid but has been the staff’s “tough-luck guy,” said coach Rocky Richar. “He’s the guy we don’t seem to score a lot of runs for.”

Richar also said that another senior, Will Holmes, has been solid at shortstop, while Kenny Palmer, the team’s junior center fielder, has added valuable consistency in the outfield and at the plate with a .415 batting average.

The Spartans were in danger of falling out of the conference race following a three-game sweep by Weddington, in which the Spartans’ pitching staff allowed only nine hits and four runs but lost each of the three games by one run. But the team rebounded to sweep Porter Ridge the following week to stay in the hunt.

“Our kids are resilient,” said Richar. “We played really good baseball against Weddington – we just weren’t able to capitalize on some opportunities that were presented to us. They made some timely plays and were able to push some runs across when we weren’t. We’re not that far off.”

Richar added that his team’s defense has been solid in complementing the pitching and the Spartans are improving offensively, which should come in handy as they re-open play against Marvin Ridge.

“Of course we’ve got a huge week in front of us with Marvin Ridge next week,” Richar said, “so hopefully we can find a way to compete and find a way to stay in the mix at the top end of our conference.”

College signings
On Feb. 1, scores of high school seniors signed National Letters of Intent to continue their athletic careers at various colleges and universities across the nation. The day, known as National Signing Day, is the opening of the spring signing period. But many athletes need more time to make their decision, including Porter Ridge football player Justin Oldja.

In mid-February, Oldja signed with Stetson University in Florida. Much like the Charlotte 49ers, Stetson is a new program and won’t begin play until 2013. Oldja was receiving recruiting attention from schools such as Davidson, Campbell and Wingate but took a last-minute recruiting visit to Stetson at the end of January.

Oldja, a three-year starter and all-Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference selection who projects as either a defensive end or outside linebacker in college, said he loved the private-school atmosphere of Stetson and felt comfortable with the coaches and the players he met.

“It was definitely a huge blessing for my family and I,” Oldja said. “It was a relief to finally know where I was going to go. (My family and I) felt that God led me to go there, and that was definitely the biggest factor in (my decision).”

Sun Valley defender Heather Black. Photo courtesy of Robert Black

• Sun Valley girls soccer player Heather Black also signed a National Letter of Intent, electing to continue her career at Pfeiffer University.

Black, the Spartans’ defensive most valuable player in 2011, was named to the all-Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference team as a sophomore and junior, and was named to the N.C. Soccer Coaches Association All-Region 9 team last year.

Black said that, as a little girl, she dreamed of playing for a big-time college soccer program one day but fell in love with the tight-knit community at Pfeiffer.

“I really enjoyed the atmosphere because everybody knows everyone there,” said Black, who added that she has already scrimmaged with the Falcons since first visiting the campus following her junior year.

For Black, signing with the Falcons was the realization of a lifelong dream.

“Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always wanted to play soccer at the college level, so it’s pretty exciting,” she said.

Cuthbertson Basketball School
July 9-12, Cuthbertson High School will hold its third annual Cuthbertson Basketball School. The camp is for boys and girls entering grades 3 through 9 in the fall.

The camp, directed by Cavs boys varsity coach Mike Helms, will feature fundamental drills, guest speakers and daily games and contests. Participants also will receive a camp T-shirt.

The camp will run daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration is $150, with a $50 deposit due June 20.

For a registration form, visit www.chs.ucps.k12.nc.us/links/SummerCamps.php. For more information, send an e-mail to Helms at Michael.helms@ucps.k12.nc.us.

Sports that Serve Basketball Camp
Sports That Serve will host its inaugural basketball camp on May 5 at Charlotte Christian School. The one-day camp, for boys in grades 6 through 8, includes hands-on instruction from professional players, college players and coaches from the Charlotte area.

The camp runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Registration begins at 8:15 a.m. The cost is $40 for pre-registered campers and $50 for walk-up registration. Lunch will be provided.

Proceeds from the camp will benefit Sports That Serve, a non-profit that seeks to use the platform of athletics to develop the character of America’s youth while raising funds for people living in poverty around the world.

For more information or to sign up for the camp, visit www.sportsthatserve.org.

Covenant Day hosts golf tourney
The annual Covenant Day Golf Classic is set for May 7 and will be held at Pine Lake County Club in Mint Hill.

All proceeds will be used to assist the school’s booster club in meeting its goal of $200,000 toward Covenant Day’s Warner Park athletic fields expansion project.

Online early-bird registration for the captain’s choice format tournament ends on Sunday, April 15. During early-bird registration, foursomes can register for $600 and individuals for $150. After April 15, prices jump to $700 and $175, respectively. All active Covenant Day booster club members are eligible for the discounted rate.

Entry fees include greens fees, lunch and dinner. There will also be a hole-in-one new car giveaway, longest-drive and closest-to-the-pin competitions, and the best team score will be recognized.

The tournament will feature a lunch from McAlister’s Deli and the shotgun start gets under way at 12:30 p.m. There is a putting contest at 5:30 p.m., and dinner and awards are set to be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

For more information, contact Lonnie Coggins at loomis3@earthlink.net, Linda Glass at jglassiii@aol.com or register online at www.golfinvite.com/­cdsboosterclubgolfclassic.

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