Area baseball teams seek more wins

by Aaron Burns

HUNTERSVILLE – High school baseball is in its mid-season swing, and the area’s three teams are duking it out for possible playoff berths. With all three fighting for postseason spots, the stakes get higher as the season wears on.

Here’s a look at the progress East Gaston, Hopewell and West Mecklenburg’s teams have made in the season’s first month.

West Mecklenburg High outfielder A.J. Williams checks his swing in the first inning of an early-season Hawks game. (Aaron Burns/MI Monitor photo)

East Gaston Warriors

Record as of March 26: 4-5 overall, 3-1 MEGA-7 3A/4A conference

2012 season record: 12-11, 7-5 MEGA-7

Head coach: Randy Sellers

Key Players: Pitchers Matt Grimmett and Tyler Price, outfielder Chase Hannifin, first baseman Jake Dobbins

Update: The Warriors have been an up-and-down team nine games into their season.

The positives? Grimmett threw a perfect game in a 3-0 season-opening win over Hunter Huss High on Feb. 28. The four-year starter got East Gaston’s season off on the right foot, but things have been like a rollercoaster since then.

East Gaston lost its next two games, to Gastonia Forestview and Belmont South Point, by a combined 26-4. The Warriors rebounded with a much-needed 10-7 triumph over Berry Academy on March 7, then pounded Garinger High 25-0 eight days later.

East Gaston’s 10-4 win at Charlotte Catholic on March 22 showed what the Warriors can be: a strong team with solid pitching and good hitters. If the team’s defense can keep opponents at bay, the playoffs are within sight.

Hopewell Titans

Record as of March 26: 9-3 overall, 5-1 I-MECK 4A conference

2012 season record: 16-15, 11-7 I-MECK 4A

Head coach: Chet Greeson

Key Players: Pitchers Craig Zaluwa and Alon Smith, shortstop Ivan Acuna, third baseman Joey Hill

Update: No Tristan Baker? No problem for the Titans.

Greeson said the loss of Baker, the team’s leading returning hitter who injured his knee in the winter, would leave the Titans with a big question mark at the plate.

They’ve made do without Baker better than many expected.

Hopewell has a team batting average of .286. The Titans won nine games in a row from late February to mid-March, including their first five I-MECK 4A contests.

Zaluwa and Smith have spent a combined 42 innings on the mound, with solid results between the two.

But Acuna, a transfer shortstop, has been a big-time threat. He’s hitting .406 with nine RBIs. Zaluwa paces the team with a stellar .481 batting average and two home runs.

An I-MECK 4A title isn’t out of reach for Hopewell.

West Mecklenburg Hawks

Record as of March 26: 2-5-1 overall, 2-3 MEGA-7 3A/4A conference

2012 season record: 10-14, 8-6 MEGA-7 3A/4A

Head coach: Mike Carpino

Key Players: Catcher Nick Davis, center fielder A.J. Williams

Update: This season was expected to be a rebuilding year for Carpino and the Hawks, and it’s lived up to its billing.

There have been some bright spots to West Mecklenburg’s tough start, however.

A small roster left Carpino with holes to fill in his batting lineup, but Davis has proven to be a solid contributor.

His skills as a defensive catcher have also helped. The Hawks held Harding University to just one run in an 11-1 win on March 21.

They’ll need more results like that to make the playoffs.

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