BROOKS JERNIGAN

West Carteret baseball coach Brooks Jernigan is back for his second season to lead one of the deepest pitching staffs he’s ever seen. (Zack Nally photo)

MOREHEAD CITY Second-year head baseball coach Brooks Jernigan at West Carteret is looking for a strong year from an experienced group of young and old this spring.

The Patriots have a strong roster built on one of the deepest pitching staffs Jernigan has seen at the school.

“I think this is the deepest pitching staff we’ve ever had in terms of guys who throw strikes,” Jernigan said. “We have Jarrett Hall, Jaxon Ellingsworth, Bryan Garner, Tyler DeLuzio, Ethan McLaughlin and C.W. Bayer. All those guys can pitch.”

How much time each pitcher spends on the mound remains to be seen.

“We’re just going to let the chips fall where they do,” Jernigan added. “If someone’s got the hot hand, we’re going to go with him. If we have two guys who give us similar things and one offers us more at another position, that’s something we’ll take into consideration.”

West’s roster of 15 includes a slew of athletes who can play various positions. Finding a spot for each of his six seniors, three juniors and six underclassmen will be a challenge for Jernigan.

“We’ve got a really deep, well-balanced team this year,” he said. “It’s going to be fun, but it’s also going to be a challenge getting guys in the right position and giving everyone opportunities. I think we’re going to be a pretty good team.”

The Patriots are coming off a COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season where they finished 1-3 overall. The program went 17-5 overall and 9-1 in the 3A Coastal Conference in 2019.

This school year’s baseball season is starting later than usual. It’s also coming off football and will suffer slightly from a lack of leadup workouts that usually take place in the fall and winter. Pandemic restrictions limited the team’s ability to work much together.

“We’re probably a little behind where we’d normally be because it was hard to get fall workouts,” Jernigan said. “We came out of the gates last year really hitting well, and I think a big part of that was being able to hit in the indoor facility.”

Several Patriots benefitted from the Big Rock Fall Baseball League at the Morehead City Marlins field this fall. It was a pivotal opportunity for many to shake off the rust from a summer spent socially distanced.

Jernigan is hoping his potent offense from last year carries over into this one. With improved pitching and defense, the team has a chance to win a third straight conference championship.

“Offensively, we were on point last year,” Jernigan said. “We just couldn’t pitch or play defense last year. We swung the bats pretty good in the scrimmage against Croatan. If I had to guess, I’d say it comes down to us and Jacksonville. They have some good players coming back. Hopefully I’m right. We’ll see.”

He’ll get offensive firepower from his entire roster, including Bryson Willis, Hall, C.J. Garner, Bryan Garner, Josh Mason, Ellingsworth, McLaughlin and DeLuzio. Speedsters Mason and Willis will lead the way on baserunning.

With so many moving pieces, the only sure starters for Jernigan are in the outfield, with Willis in left field, Bryan Garner in center field and DeLuzio in right.

“It’ll probably be C.J. Garner or Blaine Norris at catcher and Al Morris and Jaxon at first base,” Jernigan said. “Second is up in the air, shortstop will probably be Josh Mason and Jarrett Hall, and Ethan McLaughlin will be at third.”

West scrimmaged at Croatan on Thursday. The Patriots start the regular season on Friday at home against White Oak. The season will consist entirely of 3A Coastal opponents.

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