Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Charlotte Catholic baseball rolls on...with no home field

Call Charlotte Catholic's baseball team, the "Road Warriors" this season.

After the Pineville baseball field closed this year, Catholic, which has no on-campus field, was forced to find another place to play. When practices started, the team had to use a small field at Montclaire Elementary School. The Cougars didn't have a place to play games before Principal Lisa Bowen and Athletic Director Philip Williams of E.E. Waddell High School allowed them to use their baseball field for home games.

Bowen and Williams "have been very, very gracious to allow us to use this as our home field," said Catholic head coach Randy Belk, whose team beat China Grove Carson 3-2 in a second-round N.C. 3A playoff game Tuesday. "This has kind of become home for us."

The first time the Cougars stepped onto a real field was March 1, for their first game of the season at South Mecklenburg. They won that game but lost their next three, all of which were away.

Catcher and pitcher Colin Manning said not having a real home field and a field to practice on affected the team.

"It's tough," said the junior, who hit .492 during the regular season. "Without a field at your school, people won't take you seriously as a baseball team."

"We just weren't hitting well," said Manning. "We were not worrying, it was just frustrating."

It wasn't until Easter break that Catholic found a permanent practice field at Steele Creek.

Before their home opener against Olympic, the players had an idea. They dug up retro uniforms that Belk had bought in the early 1980s. They beat Olympic 10-0 and won the next three games in those uniforms.

"Sometimes you just need something like that," said Belk.

The Cougars (21-3) continued their streak. The Cougars breezing through MEGA 7 conference play with a 12-0 record and have won 20 straight games.

"We feel good," said senior Ryan Wiese, who plays center field and pitches for the Cougars. "We're swinging the bat a lot better and we've got the starting pitching and defense behind us."

Alex Jensen, a junior shortstop, said the adversity of not having a field at the beginning of the season helped the team in the long run.

"As a team, it helped us come together more," he said. "Once we won that second game, we took off from there."

The Cougars also were forced to overcome injuries during their winning streak: Jensen, Wiese and junior first baseman Danny Ryan were out for several games.

Jensen said the team is confident now and has a "swagger" it didn't have earlier.

"They're playing with a lot of confidence," said Belk. He said this may be the best defensive team he has had in his 30 years of coaching at Catholic.

A team with 10 juniors and three seniors may not seem young, but that's what Belk calls this Catholic team, based on its experience. Only five players have played varsity before, with most of the juniors spending two years on the junior varsity team.

"They're a fun bunch to be around," said Belk. "They like the game. They enjoy it and they practice hard. They've been very scrappy."

The Cougars hope to continue being scrappy and make a run in the 3A state tournament, but history is against them. Catholic had lost each of its last four first-round games.

But since most of the players are new to varsity, they weren't on those teams that lost in the first round.

"It's our first playoff game and everyone is ready to win it," said Manning before the game.

The Cougars broke the streak on Friday when they beat fifth-seeded A.L. Brown 4-3 in the first round.

Weise wasn't worried about the past as the Cougars headed into the postseason.

"The past is the past and this is the future," he said.

-- Corey Inscoe


Anonymous said...

RANDY BELK is a very poor coach. He has a 20% winning percentage against winning teams. And played in a very poor conference forever…Most players that play for him would agree he costs the team wins and is a very poor communicator.