DOBSON — Surry Central baseball coach Matt Scott came into the 2016 season with a firm belief that his team would enter the final week of the regular season with a chance to win the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference.
Two months later, Scott’s suspicion has become a reality. Despite a 7-5 loss to South Stokes on Thursday, the Eagles still control their own destiny.
At 11-10 overall and 5-3 in conference play, Surry Central is tied with the Sauras and sits two games behind first-place Forbush (13-7, 7-1) in the WPAC standings. The Golden Eagles’ final two games of the year are Tuesday and Friday battles with the Falcons.
If Surry Central can sweep Forbush next week, and get help in the form of one North Surry victory over South Stokes, the Eagles will be outright league champions.
“We know what we have to do, but all that we can control is our preparation and how hard we play next week,” Coach Scott said. “I know we’re going to be focused, loose, and we’re going to battle. I like where we are mentally right now.”
Surry Central definitely experienced some tough times before reaching this crucial two-game series with Forbush. The Eagles finished just 2-8 in the WPAC last season. They entered 2016 with some higher expectations, but a rocky start had Surry Central staring at a 2-4 record after a tough 1-0 loss to R.J. Reynolds on March 15.
But the Eagles turned a corner after that narrow defeat and rattled off five consecutive victories, including a 4-3 win over 4A powerhouse West Forsyth. That mid-season stretch, coupled with steady improvement, set Surry Central up for this opportunity at the end.
“We’ve been getting better all season,” Scott said. “We have an older team this year, and I think they were confident coming into the season, but once we started to win some close games and get on a roll, that confidence just kept growing.”
The Eagles’ pitching staff has carried them through the WPAC this season. Jed Kidd and Tyler Myers have combined for a 1.99 ERA this year, and Silas Hutson has logged a pair of saves out of the bullpen. Kidd and Myers will get the starts against Forbush on Tuesday and Friday, respectively.
None of Surry Central’s pitchers possess fastballs that will light up a radar gun, but their command of the strike zone has kept rival hitters off-balance all season long.
“Our pitchers are at their best when a pitch above the hands is a surprise,” Scott said. “We try to work down in the strike zone, but the guys have just competed so well too. The hardest our pitchers will throw is about 81 (miles per hour), and it seems like every other team in the conference has a couple guys that can throw that hard.”
One reason Surry Central’s pitching staff has exceeded expectations this year is the presence of Chandler Daughenbaugh behind the plate. Earlier this season, Scott called Daughenbaugh one of the best catchers he’s worked with, and the junior’s ability to control the running game and manage the pitching staff has paid dividends this season.
The Eagle pitchers will face a stiff challenge against Forbush next week. The Falcons are second in the conference in runs scored, and they have outscored Surry Central this season 80-53 in conference games. Coach Scott also believes Forbush is the best hitting team in the entire conference.
However, Surry Central’s offense is no slouch in its own right. The Eagles 1-2 punch at the top of the order in Riley Dockery (.359 avg and 15 RBI) and Ethan Danley (.421 avg and 13 runs scored) have caused havoc for opposing pitchers this season, both in the batters’ box and on the bases.
As a team, Surry Central are an efficient 58-64 on stolen base attempts in 2016. Dockery leads the way with 10, and Noah Wilmoth isn’t too far behind with eight. Coach Scott loves to let his boys run, giving almost everyone in his lineup the green light at all times.
“We have some of the (best) team-speed lineups since I’ve been at Surry Central,” he said. “I’m not the type of coach that wants to limit that kind of weapon, either. We’ve got to be aggressive. I’ll get upset about passive mistakes on the bases, not the aggressive ones.”
That speed proved to be the difference in one of Surry Central’s most notable victories of the year, a 3-1 win at North Surry on April 8. The Greyhounds outhit the Eagles by a solid margin that evening, but Surry Central’s aggressive mentality forced North Surry into three errors that proved to be the difference.
Pitching and speed could propel Surry Central to a conference championship with two more victories. The pursuit for the WPAC crown continues Tuesday in East Bend, but this kind of run has been percolating in the Eagles’ minds since the first day of tryouts.
“I’m not surprised because I always expected this would be our situation,” Scott said. “Now, I didn’t know who we would be competing with for the championship, but right from the start I had a feeling these last two games against Forbush would be very important.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16