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Baseball peaking at right time

April 10, 2015

By CHRIS PRIDE – Bulletin Sports Writer

It was this time last season that Patrick Henry Community College’s (PHCC) baseball team found itself in the top 10 of the NJCAA Division II rankings. After reaching as high as sixth, the Patriots fell outside the top 10 two weeks later, finishing the regular season 11th and eventually 19th in the season-ending poll.

Still, it was a crowning achievement for PHCC coach Lucas Jones in his first year, helping a team get back into the national rankings for the first time in almost five seasons. On a similar path this spring, the Patriots look poised to crack the top 20 poll for the first time this season should they win this weekend’s Region X series against Lenoir Community College.PHCC will play a traditional 9-inning, 7-inning doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hooker Field and conclude the three-game series Sunday at noon. A series sweep would give the Patriots their third straight series sweep and push their winning streak to nine games.Jones said he doesn’t worry about where his team is ranked or not ranked. He said it’s more about staying focused for the tournament stretch that comes in May and being able to play consecutive games at a high level.“It would be great to bring some of that attention because the players deserve it,” Jones said of earning another national ranking. “They’ve done well and their win-loss record is pretty good. But in the scheme of what we’re trying to accomplish season-wise, it doesn’t mean a lot.”PHCC enters Saturday’s weekend series 26-9, and Wake Tech is the only representative from Region X that is nationally ranked at 16th. The Patriots beat Tech 11-9 in a series rubber game at Hooker Field on March 22 on a Nick Faison walk-off home run.Facing a Lenoir team that sits in the middle of the pack in the Region X standings, Jones said his players can’t overlook the importance of this weekend’s series. Maintaining the momentum it has created over the last few weeks, PHCC has a favorable schedule in the weeks leading up to the May 8 start of the region tournament in Kingston, N.C.Besides earning more wins, staying healthy over the course of April is another concern for Jones. With more than 30 games played already this season, being able to go almost 20-25 more is the biggest challenge, he said.“We have a chance to be a really good team. We’ve put ourselves in a good position in terms of our record and how we’ve played,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, at the junior college level even if you set yourself for that (conference) tournament as best as possible, it still comes down to playing your best over those four days. We take these experiences and game scenarios, compete, and hopefully that will prepare us for those four days.”Following Wednesday’s no-hit performance by mid-week starter David Fernandez, Jones said the added ability of his starters that don’t throw on the weekend will hold greater value later in the season.To make it through the region tournament in May, Jones will have to rely on five or six starters and a host of bullpen arms to help survive the five-day tournament. Right now, the coach said he feels confident in a number of relievers, including Mark Hendricks, who shut the door on Rockingham C.C. in Game 2 of Wednesday’s doubleheader.Bassett High School graduate Jonah McReynolds was recently inserted into the everyday lineup at shortstop. McReynolds made the most of his start at Catawba Valley a few weeks ago and has since earned the starting spot.Jones said he’s been impressed with the freshman’s play over the last two weeks. McReynolds adds more speed, defensive consistency in the middle infield and a reliable contact bat at the bottom of the lineup, Jones said.McReynolds and Yanci Salgado make up a solid middle infield pairing and compliment Nick Faison and Dillon Crowder well at corners.“You’ve got to be ready for when your number is called and prepare yourself when that day comes. You don’t take swings off or ground balls off; you just have to keep working,” McReynolds said.Regardless of where the Patriots show up in the national rankings the rest of the season, the main objective remains the same: keep winning.

Filed under: Baseball

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