KEEP POUNDING

The Big Rock Fall Baseball League is over, but hopefully not forever.

There have been talks of bringing the league back next fall, but there’s no telling if the town of Morehead City will approve it a second time or if the same group of players will be available with football and boys soccer (hopefully) operating as normal in fall 2021.

I won’t complain if it does come back, though. Watching prep sports before the official return of state-sanctioned prep sports has been a treat. I wasn’t familiar with the seniors on the five team rosters since they were sophomores and playing few significant innings the last time a full spring season played out, so this was a great chance to familiarize myself with them.

There was a lot of good baseball played in the seven weeks of games among the five teams, but there was also some bad baseball. It took a few weeks for teams to adjust to competitive baseball, as many of the players hadn’t seen time on a diamond since March. And even then, they were only two weeks into the season when COVID-19 shut it down.

Add to that, the 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders in the league were accustomed to a much difference pace of play than the seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders. This took some adjusting from both sides.

Here’s a few more things I learned in my coverage of these teams:

1) A league like this one is only as good as the baseball played. My favorite summation of the league came from Croatan senior Connor McLeod who said, “It’s only as competitive as you make it.”

There were some nights when the players made it competitive and others where they were visibly checked out. In prep baseball, you don’t have a choice.

2) Structure is better than sandlot. It makes for better baseball, and it makes the kids happier. At the beginning of the league, players were given a long leash, and it showed. That flipped around week three or four and the baseball improved, but so did the attitudes of the players. They had more fun simulating the seriousness of prep baseball with a little more leeway given toward things like baserunning and batting.

3) Robby Lasater got to prove once again that he’s a pretty darn good coach. The former West head coach looked relaxed and in his element leading Royal Blue to a league-leading 9-3 record. It’s no surprise the coach with the most experience leading high school-aged players of the five finished with the best overall record. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him back in coaching sooner rather than later.

4) I saw a lot of players I didn’t know much about before the league took place. On a given night, a handful for each team shined bright, but a few specific players really stood out to me week to week.

Those were West Carteret seniors Jarrett Hall of the Red team and Croatan senior Matt Lasater, who I thought were the two most complete players in the league. I also learned West senior C.J. Garner of Red is a heck of a catcher, West senior Damon McAnallen of Orange can really run the bases and East Carteret senior Mason Rose of Marlin Blue can really smack the ball.

I learned that West sophomore Josh Mason of Royal Blue, Croatan senior Ryan Bellamy of Black and West sophomore Bryan Garner can really pitch, and that West senior Bryson Willis of Royal Blue, West senior Ethan McLaughlin of Black, Croatan junior Austin Odom of Black and East sophomore Jacob Nelson of Orange can really field and hit the ball well enough to be in the top four of any batting lineup.

5) This league really made me want an end-of-season all-star game for prep sports. It’s a terrible idea because of the risk of injury, but it would be a lot of fun to watch. Carteret County doesn’t get a whole lot of “super teams,” with a high level of play across the board, so it’d be really cool to see that with a game between a “1A” and “1B” squad made up of county players.

6) COVID-19 didn’t really exist at the ballpark this fall. There were no general precautions taken, no masks worn and no social distancing. I’m not here to levy judgement on anyone, but I’ll say this – there were confirmed cases within the league during the season. And there will be confirmed cases during the upcoming prep seasons, where all manner of precautions will be taken at every step. Take that to mean whatever you want.

Ultimately, this fall season was a real treat for the county’s baseball players to get a chance to make up for a lost spring with seven weeks of solid experience. Fans didn’t have to pay for entry, and the coaches the league attracted were great. It was a much-needed, much-appreciated gesture brought forward by the Morehead City Marlins, the town and the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.

(Send comments or questions to zack@thenewstimes.com or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)

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