ROWLAND — Few things seemed to go right for the South Robeson baseball team in a 9-0 loss to Village Christian Academy on March 5, but head coach Ryan Bullard noticed a trait that he thinks will benefit the team as the season progresses.
“They have a lot of confidence. They just don’t get down,” Bullard said. “I’ve had teams where they could get down like they were down tonight, and they just never gave up. A lot of teams would just quit.”
That confidence will be important as the Mustangs attempt to improve after finishing with a record of 2-12 in the Three Rivers Conference last season.
“We’re a hard working team. We just like to get out here and have fun,” said Zack Carter, a junior pitcher and shortstop.
Carter’s batting average of .356 was the second-best mark on the team last season behind Bob Butler, who graduated after posting a .396 average.
On the mound, Carter posted a 1.86 ERA in 11 appearances for the Mustangs.
Junior Cody Scott and senior Cameron Hunt both have the potential to be catalysts for an offense that posted a .350 on-base percentage last season.
“Our biggest strength on the team is confidence,” Scott said. “Playing by each other’s side and having each other’s back. Picking up each other after our mistakes.”
“We’re trying to get better and put our school on the map,” Hunt said.
The Mustangs haven’t posted a winning record since 2012, when they finished 20-9 under then head coach Bryan McDonald before he went to Purnell Swett.
“We’re rebuilding the program,” Carter said. “Getting it back up to where it was.”
Carter and Hunt are also the anchors of South Robeson’s pitching rotation. Hunt turned in a 1.42 ERA in 13 appearances last season.
“My pitching is a little bit better than I anticipated,” Bullard said.
Bullard said the Mustangs still have several improvements to make, but the team’s high level of motivation makes it easier to address those issues.
“They come and they work hard. I’m really impressed with the crowd this year,” Bullard said. “I enjoy coming out here and working with them because they work hard every day. We have to get better defensively. There’s routine stuff we should have.
“With hard work will come improvement, so I’m happy to have that kind of group out there.”
Lady Mustangs ready for ‘year of learning’
Molding a young, inexperienced team into a consistent competitor is a process that won’t happen overnight, but South Robeson softball head coach Donnie Carter is up to the challenge.
“We are very young. We lost some kids to graduation, we lost one that’s just not playing,” Carter said. “We have a lot to learn. It’s going to be a year of learning, and learning is something that’s going to be extra special.”
A lot of that development will involve mastering the intricacies of softball.
“They haven’t played a lot of softball,” Carter said. “It’s just a matter of learning the game and becoming consistent at the skills of softball. We just start with the basics.”
Kerosen “KK” Riveira is one player who can provide that consistency early in the season for the Lady Mustangs.
Riveira, a sophomore, routinely starts in center field, but Carter said she’ll take on a utility role this season.
“She’ll play everywhere,” Carter said. “She’s an awesome kid who plays hard, plays multiple positions and leads off for us.”
Riveira will be relied upon to help fill the role left by Halei Chavis, who graduated after leading the team last season with a .522 batting average, 44 runs, 35 RBIs, 12 doubles and seven home runs.
Despite the team’s inexperience, Riveira feels that the Lady Mustangs are starting to move in the right direction.
“We need a lot of work,” she said. “We’re coming together. We’re slowly and steadily coming together as a team.”
The Lady Mustangs finished with a record of 12-11 last season after falling to South Stanly in the second round of the state playoffs.
Rivera said the team needs to continue to bond and get comfortable on the field if they want to build off the success they had last season.
“Communication is key. That’s what we really need to work on,” Riveira said.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Tester_Brandon