Dirtbags Weekly RoundUp

Dirtbags Weekly RoundUp

Date: March 18, 2019
By: Brendan Dougherty

Franklin provides relief for Western Carolina

Zach Franklin went 7 innings striking out 6 and giving up 1 run in relief to pick up the win for the Catamounts this weekend. Franklin is 2-1 so far this year.

Emmertz has a day for ETSU

Colby Emmertz went 5 for 8 with 3 RBI’s 4 Runs and 2 HR’s to help lead the Bucs to a Doubleheader sweep on Saturday.

Edwards goes deep to help Marshall

Luke Edwards hit his first collegiate homerun to help lead the Thundering Heard to a 25-3 win over Eastern Michigan.

Brickhouse is MARCHing in for ECU

Since March 1st Spencer Brickhouse has been on fire!! He is hitting .381 with 10 Runs 7 RBI’s 3 2B’s 2 HR’s and 1 3B for the month!

Roberson collects first hit for UNCW

Broadus Roberson’s first collegiate hit in only his 3rd start of the season was a 2-Run Bomb to tie the game for the Seahawks on Sunday!

Washer’s Bomb helps Break it open for Pirates

Jake Washer’s 3 Run HR Friday helped break open the game for ECU and lead the Pirates to a sweep of Maryland.

Edwards hits #5 for Wolfpack

Evan Edwards hit his team leading 5th HR of the season to help lead NC State to 16-0 win over FSU. The wolfpack took 2 of 3 over the weekend and are 19-1 so far this season.

Swails stays hot

Barrett Swails (Ashley HS) Had 3 hits 5 RBI’s including a Grand slam in a 12-2 win over Topsail!

Seagar to start Opening Day for Dodgers

After missing most of last season with injuries Corey Seagar will be ready to start at SS for the Dodgers on opening day!

Instructional Friday: Pitching (Balance)

Instructional Friday: Pitching (Balance)

Date: March 15, 2019
By: Eric Leary

Conversations about what’s important as it concerns pitching can venture into different directions depending on who’s talking, the sub-topics, or the level of play. From the characteristics of a PITCH to the best programs for a pitcher to employ to foster performance, the debates can rage as to which way is right or what is most critical.  But a laser-focused analysis on how pitchers can effectively and efficiently deliver a baseball into the strike zone with consistency may be reduced down to 3 components. Balance. Arm action. Rhythm.

The argument can be made that among these necessities to deliver a baseball, the need to for balance by a pitcher is paramount. Pitching isn’t just throwing a ball, it’s the projecting of the baseball with command to a desired location, with consideration of speed and movement.  

Pitching is an athletic move and perhaps nothing is as synonymous with athleticism as balance. Arm action without balance disallows a consistent and effective release point that impacts command of location.  

Rhythm without balance would produce body movements that may be entertaining. But these actions will likely be ineffective for the pitcher to be where they need to be in order to transfer power from the lower half to the arm.

While a delivery that starts off-balance will struggle to gain balance, the most critical moment of balance is definitely the BALANCE POINT. This is the phase of the delivery where the leg lift is at it height and the pitcher is positioned on his pivot foot only. While variations and differences of philosophy may occur at this moment in regards to the style or positioning of the foot, and even the move to land, it is fairly universal that the pitcher at this balance point should have his weight focused on the inside portion of the pivot foot.  

Once balanced here, a landing that allows for continued balance is optimal. Always consider the pitcher an athlete and careful consideration should be taken to avoid drifting or opening early. These moves can negate the balance previously achieved. The landing creates a base from which to deliver the baseball powerfully. Balance is essential to creating this power.

Here are a couple of good drills to enhance the balance of a pitcher at different stages of the pitching sequence. They are both done without throwing, thus can be part of a daily routine.

  • Balance point touches … The pitcher achieves the balance point and takes the ball out of the glove to start a move to bend over while holding on the pivot foot.  The pitcher should reach all the way down to the ground to place the ball in front of the pivot foot toe. The lead leg will project behind the pitcher on this move.  The pitcher should then return to the balance point position and hold one count once achieved. A repeat of the move to retrieve the ball is finished once the pitcher acquires the balance point once again. It is important that the player not touch the lead leg foot to the ground (or at least minimally to begin).  This drill requires extreme focus on the inside of the pivot foot. Attempt to complete 5 reps without stopping. Those that have gained mastery of this drill may do up to 10 reps without stopping.
  • Reset Drill … The drill again starts at the balance point and should begin with the pitching holding the ball out of the glove.  The pitcher makes the move with the lead leg foot to his landing spot while simultaneously creating the arm action of the throwing delivery. The ball should be held at the top of the throwing circle when the foot lands.  This is also a timing exercise. The pitcher should focus on being in a balanced, position of power from which to deliver the ball once the foot lands. At this point the pitcher simply and slow retraces his actions to regain his starting position.  Careful attention is again paid to the weight distribution of the pivot foot. Early attempts should be slow to access precision of the movement. Attempt 5 reps successively until comfort is gained, before moving to additional reps that even addresses rhythm to the move.

Remember that balance is an essential component to an athletic movement. And pitchers are athletes too.

Under The Gun: Tyler Jackson

Under The Gun: Tyler Jackson

Date: March 14, 2019
By: Eric Leary

Today on Under the Gun, Dirtbags Baseball has Tyler Jackson with us, who is the hitting  at North Greenville University. Coach Jackson is in his fifth year with the Crusaders in 2019 as they are off to a solid season.  

Coach, get us started with a look at how you’ve gotten to this point in your coaching journey and who have been some major influences.

Some of the major influences in my coaching journey starts with Monte Lee (Clemson) and Matt Heath (UT Martin). These two taught me much of what I know when I was a player for them at College of Charleston. Then getting to spend a year coaching with them and seeing how much time they put into the program really show me how to go about the coaching world. Landon Powell (North Greenville) gave me a chance as a young guy a year out of college and I will always be thankful for the opportunity that he has given me. Jon Coutlangus (North Greenville) has not only helped with baseball but also just how to go about everyday life.

As a player, you started in JUCO baseball with Spartanburg Methodist and then went on to join a DI program in the College of Charleston. Now at the DII level with North Greenville, how have experiences at different levels of college baseball provided you perspectives that you can translate into helping your players.  

My experiences from the different levels has shown me there is a lot of good baseball out there. Each level the game is still the same and the talent is just as high at some of the best D2 as there is at the D1 level. Just making sure that every guy is ready to go is the biggest thing because there are some games that there isn’t many fans in the stands.

The success this staff has had at North Greenville in a tough Conference Carolinas has been impressive – a regular season title, a couple of conference tourney titles, and two regional appearances, not to mention several players who have gone on to play professionally.  What is it about North Greenville that has allowed these teams to achieve at this level?

The players and the culture. Each year we have been able to bring in more and more talent that has helped us get to the point that we are now. I think the players are drawn to us because of the culture that we have created where we work hard but we also have fun while working hard. If we can created an environment where the players love coming to the field every day then that means they are also going to work and get better. That’s our goal for the guys every day is to show up and get better.

More specifically, the Crusaders have seen an uptick in offensive performance in your tenure – share your hitting philosophy.

My hitting philosophy is different depending on the type of hitter. Each one of our guys are on their own individual plan and have their own routine that they do. If you come watch us play you will see guys that will leave the yard but you will also see guys that bunt and play small ball. The more diverse of and offense you can be the harder it is to defend. The main reason we have been successful as an offense is because we have had guys come in and buy in to what we are trying to do as an offense.

What are some traits and characteristics you feel are essential for a player to employ if they are really serious about wanting to be able to transition from being a high school player to joining a college program and being productive?

You have to love the game and you have to work hard. Those two things are the drive behind every great player. If a coach has to motivate you to work hard or to put extra time into becoming a better player then chances are you’re going to struggle. Everyone at this level is talented but the difference between guys that have impacts on programs are the self-motivated guys that are also very talented.

Finish us up with a message you’d like to give to youth baseball today where the players are acquiring all the skills that will soon make them the student-athletes that college programs are looking to identify and recruit.

Know what type of player you are. If you’re a guy that can really run then play that way. If you’re a power guy then be that. I love guys that have a high baseball IQ and play the game how it should be played. Also remember that baseball is a game and to not be afraid to fail. Everyone who has ever played this game has failed at point. When you fail it is a chance to learn and get better. It is really the best way to learn at this game because you test your limits as a player because you never know what you can achieve if you never try to achieve it.

Some great insight from Coach Jackson today. We here at Dirtbags Baseball are wishing him and the North Greenville University program all the best as they continue to battle in the Conference Carolinas this spring.  

Testimonial Tuesday: Jack Hicks

Testimonial Tuesday: Jack Hicks

Date: March 12, 2019
By: Eric Leary

How does a player know where they stand vs. all the competition across the country? It’s when the head of one of the nation’s top organizations says that player is “one of the best hitters in the country.” Those are Andy Partin’s words in describing Jack Hicks, the 2020 infielder out of Leesville Road High School in Raleigh, NC. Of course, Andy Partin is the founder and CEO of Dirtbags Baseball and happens to know a thing or two about top players in the nation.  

And plenty of top college programs in the nation have been interested in Hicks, after seeing him perform with the Dirtbags for the past three seasons. But as a lifelong fan of the Kentucky Wildcats, once provided the opportunity to commit, Jack made the dream school his choice in August of 2017. The connection makes sense as his parents attended the university and both are from the Bluegrass State. He says when he took his visit to Lexington it was a chance to affirm his love for the school and see how Coach Mingione and his staff run the program. Following that trip, Jack says he is sure it is the best place for him.

The journey to being such a sought after prospect did come with some growth.  And Jack attributes much of that to joining the Bags. He says being around amazing teammates have pushed him to work and develop as a player.  He also added that, “I got to be around great coaches who know the game like the back of their hand. And they taught me things I didn’t know and it helped me grow as a player and as a person.”

One of the areas Hicks has seen his own growth has been in gaining an understanding of some of the game’s finer points. He attributes the fact that coaches have held him accountable for his mistakes as major factor in this area. One such piece of advice that was received, was to always play with a mindset to prove himself because a college coach could be watching.

Additionally, the experiences with the Dirtbags offered learning how to decode the game in finding tip-offs to a pitcher’s tendencies and gaining information from just paying attention to what’s happening.

For Hicks the work isn’t done. With more high school and Dirtbags games ahead of him, he spent the past off-season striving to improve his strength and use his lower half more effectively. Thus, he says he has seen his abilities improve in driving the ball with some power to all fields.

And it has been recognized by those coaching and evaluating the left-handed hitter. Partin remarked, “He’s got a great understanding of the strike zone. And he’ll surprise you with his power as well.”

But perhaps the most revealing factor into the junior’s abilities is how comfortable he appears while doing his handy-work at the plate. Partin continues, “He looks like he is watching TV in his living room in the box – so relaxed.” Wow! That’s putting it into perspective.

All of this development and work is hopefully leading to big things in 2019 for Hicks. For Leesville Road HS, he said his expectations are “To WIN games, compete, and make my teammates better; while I enjoy playing for my high school.”

As the spring turns to summer and he dons the Dirtbag uniform again he will appreciate those chances to once again play on the big stages like Atlanta and Jupiter in the fall. It is clear that Jack is grateful for the lifelong friendships with teammates and bonds with coaches. As Andy Partin finished, “I’m excited to work alongside Jack again in 2019. I’m expecting another great season from him.” And assuredly, so is Jack Hicks.

Dirtbags Weekly RoundUp

Dirtbags Weekly RoundUp

Date: March 11, 2019
By: Brendan Dougherty

Jarvis Dominates in Start for Duke

Bryce Jarvis picked up his second win over the weekend when the Blue Devils took 2 of 3 from the Cavaliers to open up ACC play. Jarvis went 7 innings striking out 4 and not giving up an earned run.

Noble Picks up the Win For Brunswick CC

Cam Noble picked up a win on the mound over the weekend for the Dolphins. Noble has helped Brunswick CC get off to a 14-1 start and 8-1 in region play.

Cameron uses long ball to help Southeastern CC to Doubleheader Sweep

Riley Cameron went 3-4 with 3 HR’s and 7 RBI’s to help lead Southeastern to a 13-9 win in game 2 of the doubleheader.

Johnson has big day at the plate to help Highpoint to Victory

Joe Johnson went 2-5 with 4 RBI’s 1 BB and 1 run scored to help lead the Panthers to a victory on Sunday. It was also Craig Cozart’s 300th win as head coach.

Meredith helps Tigers Rally for Sweep

Kier Meredith went 3-9 with 1 RBI 3 Runs and a 2B for Clemson this weekend. He had a huge game tying single in game 1 to help spark the Tigers to a comeback victory and a sweep of the Tarheels.

Fajardo has big day for NCCU

Nick Fajardo went 3-3 with 2 Runs and 1 2B against Presbyterian last week. Overall he is off to a great start hitting .282 with 2 2B’s and is 2-2 in stolen bases.

Blake gets win for Wolfpack

Andrew Blake picked up the win for NC State on Saturday. He went 4.1 innings with 5 k’s and has helped the Wolfpack get off to a historical 15-0 start.

Lankford has career game for Bulldogs

Brandon Lankford went 3-6 with 2 HR’s 6 RBI’s 3 Runs in helping UNCA to a win Saturday against Georgia Southern.

Stallings Powers Wake Forest

Hogan Stallings (2020 Wake Forest HS 1B) is off to a hot start this season. He already has two HR’s in the first week of the season.

Instructional Friday: Base Running

Instructional Friday: Base Running

Date:  March 8, 2019
By: Eric Leary

If knowledge is power, then knowing where the baseball is on the diamond while running the bases could put players into genius status. It is a critical element in making decisions and taking advantage of opportunities. This sometimes requires coaches and players to overcome long standing and often misunderstood or misguided standards of the game.  

Players must be personally responsible for the whereabouts of the ball at all times when on the bases. Assuming who has the ball or where it is will create problems. Often relying on information from someone else as to where the ball is or what decision to make can rob base runners of the chance to take advantage of a situation or even become victims of ignorance. The ability to run the bases while accessing this information requires some understandings and practice.

Consider a few Do’s and Don’ts regarding the skill to run the bases and simultaneously being responsible for the location of the baseball.

  • DO know the ball is what the defense needs to get the out.  Its location is important.
  • DON’T assume the base coach is going to tell a base runner what to do in time.
  • DO run with the head in an up position so to glance the field and see the ball.
  • DON’T run with the head down or conversely run while staring at the ball.
  • DO have an idea about the arm strength of the defense and its ability to make a play.
  • DON’T assume balls that should be hits will be down.  Defensive gems can kill a rally.
  • DO keep the head up even after the play appears over while returning to the bag.
  • DON’T walk back to a base thinking the play is over with the head down.

Here are a few situations to know where the ball is in order to round the bases efficiently and effectively:

  • Leaving the batter’s box …
    • Skill:  Quickly identify while exiting the batter’s box if the ball has stayed in the infield or made it to the outfield grass.  A glance in the first three steps should allow the batter-runner to gain this information and determine whether their route to 1B is through the bag or to make a challenge turn.
    • Drill:  As runners leave the box have them identify the number of fingers the coach is holding up as he is positioned at various spots in the infield.  A nuance is to have coach either take a fielding position (ground ball – through the bag) or turn his back (ball to the outfield – challenge turn).
  • Reaching 1B …
    • Skill:   Whether running through the bag or making the challenge turn, the runner needs to attempt to find the ball again.  Errant throws from an infielder could provide an opportunity to advance to 2B. When executing the challenge turn, forcing the defense to secure the ball to the infield can only be taken advantage of if the batter-runner keeps his head up to re-identify the ball’s location.
    • Drill:  While executing the route through the bag, have a coach positioned in the coach box to randomly throw a ball back toward the fence simulating an overthrow as the batter-runner strikes the bag.  As the runner breaks down and looks right he must decide if the distance and angle is enough to advance. While working on the challenge turn have a player/coach from the outfield make good and bad throws into the cut-off or to 2B.
  • Taking 2B leads …

    • Skill:  Taking leads at 2B requires confidence in the distance a runner is taking in their primary lead as well as listening to the coach about threats from the middle infielders attempting to hold the runner.  Runners must keep their head up and on the pitcher who has the ball. Looking back to check distance from the bag is an opportunity for the pitcher to make a pick without being seen by the runner.
    • Drill:  Runners take primary leads while the defense (pitcher, SS and 2B) work on holding him.  The 3B coach provides simple verbal cues for the runner to extend or contract the lead. Runners have their eyes on the ball/pitcher and assume a move to be a pick if contracted in their primary lead.  If the pitcher goes to the plate, runners can work on secondary leads or steal breaks.
  • Tagging up at 3B …
    • Skill:  The decision to tag up on a fly ball with a runner at 3B with less than two outs can become a combined effort from the runner and the coach.  The runner should work quickly back to the bag once they see the ball up and track it to the outfielder. They are responsible for the break to home once the catch is made.  Coaches should position themselves in the runner’s line of sight once he has released to go home. Throws from an outfield depth and with enough carry that are determined to be able to get that runner at the plate must be identified early and signal to stop the runner.  The runner is always thinking score, and the coach must act at the brake to the attempt if it appears he will be out.
    • Drill:  Have runners in primary leads and respond to balls being fungo-ed from the plate.  Runner should tag on balls to the outfield and respond to ground balls in a predetermined fashion (make it go through, ground balls in the middle, etc.).  Either have a player/players in the outfield for the runner to read on the catch or place buckets/cones in OF positions so proximity can be determine for routine balls.  If using outfielders, tag on the catch; if no outfielder, have coach clap on the “catch.” Be sure to practice having the coach timing the STOP on the tag-up depending on depth, speed of runner, or timing of break.

Decision making is based on acquiring the necessary knowledge and applying it to the situation.  Knowing where the baseball is is critical to making decisions while on the base paths.

Under The Gun: Billy Funk

Under The Gun: Billy Funk

Date: March 7, 2019
By: Eric Leary

This week on Under the Gun, we are joined by Billy Funk, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Louisburg College. Coach Funk is in his first year with the Hurricanes in 2019 after two years at Wingate University.  At Louisburg he is overseeing infield play.

Coach Funk, you’ve had an array of experiences in your coaching career as you’ve been at some programs at various levels that have accomplished some noted successes. Take us through your path to your current position and share how each has impacted your development in the profession.

As a coach, I feel that I’ve been blessed, blessed to be around some great programs, but blessed to be around some great head coaches. Jack Moore (HC at Rapphannock CC), Matt Jones (HC at Shippensburg University), Jeff Gregory (HC at Wingate) and now I have the privilege of working under Head Coach Blake Herring here at Louisburg College. Each stop has given me the opportunity to grow as a person and as an assistant coach. My first stop stop was at Rappahannock CC, where I played after high school. My main purpose, was to give back to the program that laid the foundation for my future success. Shippensburg University, located in Pennsylvania was my second stop as a volunteer assistant . The year before I joined Matt Jones’s coaching staff, Shippensburg Univ. made a World Series trip to Cary, NC to compete in the D2 world series.

I think every coach who is starting their career, is grateful for the opportunity to coach, but to have one of your first opportunity with a program that is well established is truly a blessing. From Shippensburg, I traveled south to Wingate University and joined the Jeff Gregory coaching tree as a graduate assistant. Coach G, offered me the opportunity to not only be apart of his outstanding program, but was able to allow me to further my education by getting my Masters Degree. I was able to really dive in from the recruiting side of things, and to have Coach G’s trust was an honor. After 2 years with Wingate, I landed my first full – time job with Louisburg College under Head Coach Blake Herring.

Louisburg College has always been a special place to me, because as a junior college player, I recall being in the visitors dugout at Frazier Field, and now I’m calling Frazier Field my home. Each school and each coach, current and past, has impacted my life in ways I can’t describe. The thing I will hold on to for the rest of my life, are the relationships that I’ve built along the way. All that I have accomplished up until this point in my life, is some way shape or form, has come through the game of baseball and for that, the game owes me nothing, but I owe it everything. Great coaches have impacted my life, but more importantly, they are all good men of life and to be friends with them, I will always be in their debt.

As the recruiting coordinator at a JUCO, what are some challenges as well as benefits you face in finding and recruiting players?

As a recruiting coordinator at a junior college, it’s special. It’s always an ongoing process with guys we’re recruiting for our program, and programs that are recruiting our guys. Recruiting is fun, I have the opportunity to meet so many different people and I get to hear their story as I build a relationship. The challenges as a recruiter at a junior college is just that, it’s a junior college. Every player wants or has dreams of playing high level D1 ball or professional baseball, so junior college doesn’t appeal to them. But that is also what makes it fun, because a junior college at times, is just a detour to get to where you want to go as a player. Nobody goes to a juco to stay, everyone wants to leave and move on to bigger and better things. They’re more benefits for sure though, we open the possibility of entering the MLB draft earlier as opposed to waiting after their junior year or 21 years of age. Juco offers players and coaches to have a more “hands on” approach with players, with more innings and reps, while NCAA schools are handcuffed because of hour restrictions.

Once those players get on campus, what are some keys to helping them develop that serves both the program in reaching its goals and the player in enhancing their opportunities once they leave Louisburg?

Louisburg College is a private, residential, 2 year school. Once players get on campus, they get the “4 year” feel. Meaning we have dorms, cafeteria, weight room and an athletic facility on campus. Having those things on campus really enhances the development of players. They lift, and then refuel their bodies with the proper nutrients in the cafe. After practice hours, they have full access to Frazier field, where they can master their craft either as a pitcher or hitter. Having dorms on campus is a huge plus for us, while typically other community college do not offer dorms nor a cafe. Apartments have to be rented out, rent, cable bill, internet and food have to be bought on a monthly basis. All of that is included here at Louisburg College, so student athletes only have to focus on academics and developing their skills. Players that utilize all of the resources that Louisburg College has to offer, are the players that continue to help this program win, and are typically the players that move on to bigger and better things.

Louisburg College has a rich history in the game of baseball.  Provide some insight as to what it’s like for coaches and players to be a part of such a program that is part of such a highly competitive league like Region X of the NJCAA.

Louisburg College is the oldest 2 year school in the Nation. Just by saying that, there are high expectations to win and to win at an elite level. For coaches and players, I feel like it’s our job to keep the train moving forward. If there isn’t any pressure to win, what’s the point of playing or coaching. It’s that feeling, what make Louisburg College a special place. The NJCAA and Region X is very competitive, year in and year out. North Carolina and South Carolina are the two states that make up the Region X Division 1 conference, which makes it a great place to not only recruit, but to compete. Region X is combined with true freshmen talent and with Division 1 transfers across the board. Each weekend, Region X players are playing to help their program win while also trying to get recruited to play for outstanding programs up and down the east coast.

Youth baseball plays a huge role in providing foundations for the players that will be on the recruiting radar in the coming years. What are your views on how youth baseball can provide the necessary competitive forces, with development and still allowing the game to be fun?

Youth baseball has and will always have a huge impact in developing future talent. While youth programs offers the opportunity to play at a young age, we can’t forget to develop what it means to be a good teammate, to be coachable and what it means to put the team first. Youth programs are unique, because it offers young players the ability develop social skills, friendships with other players and coaches and that can’t be taken for granted. At a young age, playing should be fun, but there’s an age where just playing isn’t fun, but competing and winning becomes fun. Which is what drives us to continue to develop our skills and become better players, and human beings. If we can learn how to deal with the failures from which the game of baseball has to offer, then we should be able to succeed in anything we but our minds too. Let’s continue to have a positive impact on our youth and continue to make baseball “America’s Sport”

We greatly appreciate your time Coach Funk. Best of luck you and Louisburg Baseball as you continue the season. The Dirtbags will be keeping our eyes on the Hurricanes in your quest to rise to the top of Region X.


Testimonial Tuesday: Nikko Andre

Testimonial Tuesday: Nikko Andre

Date: March 5, 2019
By: Eric Leary

Knowing where you belong is a feeling that Nikko Andre can connect with on the baseball field and in life. The uncommitted 2020 catcher has played behind the plate since he was 6 years old and he knows he belongs behind the plate.

In a recent conversation with Dirtbags Baseball he explained the draw he has to the position by saying, “I am in control and involved in every play.”

From handling a pitching staff to directing the defense, and of course shutting down the running game with his 1.9-2.0 POP time the junior is right at home behind the dish. And he’s sure to also be finding that same feeling soon when it comes to a fit for a college program.

For now, he belongs to the St. James Sharks out of Murrells Inlet, SC, who are coming off a 2018 season that saw them run out a 28-5 record.  Of course, Andre and his teammates have high expectations for 2019 as they have recently started to play. He said the scrimmages were an opportunity to jell and communicate. And that’s a big deal because after having 10 seniors on last year’s team the Sharks will have to come together quickly, which is something Nikko has seen already this spring.

At 5’10” and 180 lbs., Andre brings some athletic and physical tools to the table.  He describes himself offensively as having the ability to work the count and delivery with confidence. He considers his approach one that puts pressure on the pitcher to locate because he can attack or extend the at-bat and run the count to his advantage.

This past off-season the focus has been to really work on his swing with the likes of Dirtbags SC Director Brendan Dougherty. According to Nikko he really has been able to work towards “making the swing mine,” after previously has trying to emulate other people’s techniques and philosophies.

This work clearly is balanced by his defensive prowess, but it is not only is abilities and experience at catcher that makes him valuable; the guy is also a hustler who is constantly communicating on the field.  Adds Dougherty, “Nikko has been one of the hardest working and relentless players we have had in our organization. He is always prepared and ready to play – a true Dirtbag in every aspect.”

The chance to improve by working with quality coaches like Dougherty is just one reason that Andre attributes joining the Dirtbags 2 years ago as the right move.  The program seemed to be to be a perfect fit, as he took input from former St. James teammate and Dirtbag Jacob English. Ultimately, the decision came down to having the opportunity to play nd with the best and WIN.

That brings the conversation to the 2019 expectations with the Dirtbags. After playing with the  SC Callihan and Conner teams he feels his squad of Bags has some top arms and a lineup 1-9 that can swing it.  Nikko said they are ready to make the next step after a few good showings in national events last year, as evidenced by his own 4-for-4 showing in one game in Atlanta for the first time.

Finding a home with the Dirtbags just felt like it was where he belonged. To Andre the organization is all about the great people, the promotion of strong play and hard work. He used words like “class,” “intelligence,” and “respectful.”

So where does he belong at the next level? Wherever he can compete with the best of the best and he’s grateful the Dirtbags are prepping for that chance. He is confident he will know that place where he belongs when he finds it.

Dirtbag Weekly Roundup

Dirtbag Weekly Roundup

Date: March 4, 2019
By: Brendan Dougherty

Baseball is now in full swing from the professional ranks to high school level. Check out this week’s edition of Dirtbag weekly roundup..

Stellar Start For Roupp against #5 Ranked UNC
Landen Roupp UNCW pitched 4.2 innings giving up only 3 hits while striking out 8 and not yielding a walk against the #5 Ranked UNC Tarheels.

Zayicek starting to Heat Up for Seahawks
Riley Zayicek went 6-14 with 4 Runs scored 2 RBI’s 2 HR’s and 1 2B this week in helping UNCW go 3-

Cammarata goes deep for first of the season to help lead 49ers
Dominick Cammarata UNCC hit his first home run of the season. He is off to a great start to the young season. He is hitting at a .350 clip with 3 RBI’s.

Haney Stays hot for UNCC
Josh Haney is off to a hot start for the 49ers. He went 6-11 with 2 RBI’s in helping UNCC win 2 out of 3. He is leading the 49ers in hitting and has 5 RBI’s with 1 SB so far this season.

Dockery Ties Record For Red Hawks
Blake Dockery tied a school record when he recorded 14 punchouts against Pitt in his latest start for Catawba Valley Community College.

Johnson Leads Aggies
Michael Johnson threw a complete game 7 hitter in helping NC&T to a win over College of Charleston. Johnson is now 3-0 for the Aggies and has established himself as there ace.

Branham Makes All Tournament at NaturChem Invitational
Witt Branham made the All Tournament Team this past weekend for Lugoff Elgin after his start in the NaturChem Invitational Tournament in Columbia, SC.

Cooper Dominates in First Start of Spring
Trey Cooper NC State Commit and Randleman HS star put on a dominate performance over the weekend. He threw 5 innings and collected 10 K’s without giving up any runs.

Levi Michael- SF Giants
Michael is off to a hot start to the Spring for the Giants. He is hitting .375 with a HR and 2 RBI’s he is looking to be the next Dirtbag in the Big’s.



Instructional Friday: Catchers (Throwing)

Instructional Friday: Catchers (Throwing)

Date: March 1, 2019
By: Eric Leary

The conversation on the topic of a catcher’s ability to throw out stealing baserunners is riddled with a mix of myths and realities. In order to find some clarity in the discussion consider a few of these:

  • Myth:  It is the single most important defensive skill employed by catchers.  Reality: While prioritizing skills for any position is definitely to the discretion of the list maker, an argument can be made that a number of other defensive hind catcher skills like receiving or blocking. In fact it could be said that if a catcher has refined receiving skills to get more strikes called, perhaps less would be base stealers would be reaching base in the first place. Nonetheless, the skill of a catcher to throw is an important tool for deployment of the best behind the dish.
  • Myth:  Only catchers with superior arm strength can succeed in throwing out runners.  Reality: A number of factors play into the catcher’s opportunity to throw out base stealers. While the arm strength factor can surely be a equalizer, careful attention to detail intensive skills like footwork, the exchange, and even accuracy will allow catchers with lesser arms to successfully halt the running game. Additionally, the holding of runners is a shared responsibility by pitchers and infielders, and when poorly executed can mute even the strongest arms from behind the plate.
  • Myth:  A catcher’s POP time is the most important measurable as an indicator of their ability to stop the running game.  Reality:  This one can simply be categorized as misleading.  When C’s are being clocked with throws to 2B the posture of the stance and the accuracy of the throw are often ignored variables in the equation.  The 2.0 POP time from a half-squat that is consistently delivering balls to the left of of the bag masks the truth that nobody is really going to throw from such a position in a game and base stealers vying for 2B rarely come in from the left side of the bag.

Therefore, consider some areas for catchers to focus their training regardless of arm strength as they strive to accomplish proficiency and exceed to excellence. Make no mistake, a player with exceptional arm strength behind the plate, whether gifted that physical skill or obtained from hard work, can often overcome poor technical skills to throw people out. However, a combination of proven fundamentals and the so-called “cannon” for an arm provides a player with very high ceilings for opportunities. Here are a few attributes to consider:

  • The Stance …In a block/throw stance, catchers need to have feet forward and lift their rear slightly to gain a posture they can move and transition weight with ease in order to reach a throwing position.
  • The exchange … When base runners are on the move catchers should  let the ball travel deeper on receipt into the mitt as the ball is traveling on the pitch faster than the hands can move once it is caught. As the ball enters the mitt, the catcher’s hands should  lift up with a quarter turn towards the right ear and provide a station from which to extract the ball with an adjacent throwing hand. Repetitions to remove the ball out of the top of the mitt with the ball away on a short arm stroke can allow the entire process from the ball being received to the top of the arm circle to be a seamless, rhythmic motion.
  • The footwork … Sometimes the most neglected aspect of the skill, the steps of the catcher should be short, precise and quick.  With balls over the plate or even slight left, a middle footwork sequence will have the catcher step with the right foot first to the middle of the stance gaining ground ever so slightly.  A good rule is to have the right heel pointed to the left toes and no more than a foot width ahead of the left foot. This move coincides with the lift and turn of the mitt on the exchange.  The removal of the ball into a throwing position happens as the left foot moves forward to the throwing target and a lands parallel to the turned right foot. The sooner this second step happens the sooner the ball can be put in flight. Balls thrown errantly or purposely through either batter’s box will require an additional step to the left by starting with the left foot, while balls to the right need only the catcher to meet the throw with a right step to the ball (the pitchout pitch).
  • The release and accuracy …  The short arm action employed by most catchers provides the quickness necessary to get the ball in flight ASAP.  This is critical. However, the catchers that can combine quickness with power in delivering high velocity projectiles towards 2B often do so with sound throwing mechanics that are facilitated by frontside actions, hip rotation and torque.  These fundamentals greatly encourage the baseball to travel to a desired destination for a best chance to nab the attempting base stealer.

A progression of drills to get the skills:

  • Receiving … Begin with the catcher standing and operate with short, firm tosses of the baseball to precise locations (middle, slight left, etc.).  Let the catcher first get accustomed to receiving the ball deep.Then put the catcher in a squatted stance and repeat.
  • Exchanges …With a ball in the mitt initially, have catchers in a standing position and practice moving the ball to where the exchange will take place. Then repeat with the ball being delivered with short, firm tosses.
  • Footwork …Without a mitt or ball, have catchers from a standing position repeat the middle footwork steps.  Focus on the short, quick moves the get both feet down in a hurry. No hopping and be sure to gain ground with the first step.  Repeat actions from a squatted stance.
  • Combo … With the catcher initially standing, combine the receive, exchange and footwork components of the actions.  Move the catcher to a squatted stance and repeat.
    • Bullpen work … Great place to get “dry” reps on throwing. Simply have catcher receive to a throwing position every 4-5 pitches.
  • Short box to full distance throws …Have catchers work the combo drill into short throws.  Initially have them throw back to the coach at 50 feet or so.The next throw should be to a point halfway between the mound and 2B.  The height of the ball should be flat. (Note: catchers with weaker arm strength will throw out runners to 2B with flat throws that take a big hop to the bag over those that throw the ball high in the air to get it to 2B).  Finish the drill with throws to the bag.

Having a catcher that can routinely throw out runners can be a huge defensive advantage for any team. The way to make it happen involves so much more than just having a strong arm behind the plate.

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