WHS, Marvin Ridge open baseball seasons this week
In multiple ways, Weddington and Marvin Ridge’s baseball programs are close. The Union County high schools are less than 7 miles apart, and they collectively boast some of the top talent in the area.
In nine games between the schools in the past two years, five have been decided by one run and eight have been decided by three runs or less.
That closeness doesn’t change just because it’s a new year, either.
With season-openers for both schools slated this week, the Warriors and Mavericks enter 2014 right next to each other in the preseason IMPACT.com state baseball 3A poll: Weddington is No. 5, Marvin Ridge No. 6.
Weddington gets started Wednesday (Feb. 26) at Ardrey Kell at 4 p.m. and the Mavericks open the next day at South Meck (4:30).
“It’s always really competitive when we play,” Mavericks senior outfielder Jacob Henderson said. “I’ve grown up playing against those guys. Having that (rivalry) is good for all of us.”
Marvin Ridge has gotten the best of the Warriors -- at least in the win-loss column -- the past two years, winning six of the teams’ games against each other. That stretch includes two Southern Carolina Conference regular-season titles, and two victories over the Warriors in the SCC tournament championship game.
Weddington, though, rallied for two consecutive 3A state championships —- and last year, the Warriors bounced the Mavericks in the playoffs en route to Raleigh.
“It was good to see Weddington (win the state title),” said Henderson, a Gardner-Webb football signee. “They’re bringing it back to Union County and bringing more attention to the area. Same thing with Piedmont winning it. But it kind of sucks in a way, too. We play (Weddington) in a three-game series and win, and then win the conference tournament, so it can be tough at the same time for us not to be there.”
A four-year varsity player, Henderson is one of eight returning players on a Marvin Ridge team that went 26-4 last year and comes back faster and more athletic.
The Mavericks scored double-digit runs against both Cornelius Hough and East Meck in recent scrimmages while allowing three total runs.
The bats coming around early is a welcome sight for Marvin Ridge, whose strength is pitching.
Junior Max Wotell (Arizona commit) and senior Zach Kuchmaner top the rotation. Both are left-handed, and the third rotation spot will likely go to junior Hunter Colonna, another lefty who spot-started last year. Senior Connor Murphy is pushing Colonna for the third starting spot, and can also come on relief as a right-hander.
Henderson ID’d Kuchmaner as one of the team’s most improved players.
“A lot of the veterans have improved, but Zach Kuchmaner got really strong in the offseason,” said Henderson, who stole 24 bases last year according to uchsbaseball.com. “From a power standpoint, he’s upped his velocity.”
Henderson is Marvin Ridge’s only true outfielder — "In practice, it’s me and five freshmen who can all play other positions” — and perhaps its fastest player. Junior Jason Curtis, who stole 17 bases last year, will fill the void at shortstop left by four-year starter Derek Smith and gives the Mavericks a speedy top of the order.
“I’d say we’re a lot more scrappy and more athletic as a team,” Henderson said. “If we can consistently put up four or five runs a game, there shouldn’t be a game we lose this year because of our pitching.”
Warriors loaded again
Pitching is also a strength for Weddington, despite the Warriors losing big arms in Alex Bostic (Clemson) and Jeremy Schellhorn (Charlotte) to graduation.
Sean Collins (Richmond signee) and Landon Kay (Furman signee) anchor the rotation and are two of Weddington’s five seniors who have signed to play in college.
Daniel Calabretta (Duke), Jeff Welch (Virginia Commonwealth) and Jake Ferry (Belmont Abbey) comprise a nucleus of players that could end their high school careers with three rings.
“It’s just a bunch of new guys,” Calabretta said. “We still are learning. We’ve got guys — Phillip Fincher, he’s playing catcher for us. That’s not his primary position, but he’s doing a good job. He’s kind of a guy that will go play anything. He plays infield, he can play outfield. We’ve got a lot of guys who are doing a good job of learning pretty quickly.”
Calabretta and Collins will carry the bulk of the offensive load with so many new full-time position players. Calabretta hit .397 and had 50 hits last year; he was the MVP of the 3A championship series against D.H. Conley. Collins hit seven home runs and drove in 38 runs.
The team has practiced in four-hour intervals over the past two weeks in preparation for defending its state title — again.
“I never think we really basked in winning states, but we’re definitely ready to get back to work,” Calabretta said. “It seems to all of us that the first game’s gotten here quicker than we thought it would. We got off to a (slow start) last year, and I don’t know if that happened to us because we started thinking about the end of the year too early. I think if we just be ourselves, we can do it again.”