Prep baseball: West’s Graham eager to get started
MOUNT ULLA — New West Rowan baseball coach Seth Graham is a rookie as far as high school baseball, but he’s no stranger to the West Rowan community.
Graham grew up in Iredell County and graduated from South Iredell High, but he’s lived in Mount Ulla for years. His wife, Hillary, is a West Rowan graduate.
Chad Parker stepped down as West Rowan coach after four seasons and a 46-48 record that included three playoff appearances and one fine season — 17-9 in 2013. The Falcons were 13-10 last spring, exiting in the first round of the 3A state playoffs.
While East Rowan, South Rowan and Carson all have experienced major baseball success lately, the Falcons lagged behind their county and North Piedmont Conference rivals. West Rowan hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008 and hasn’t made it past the second round since the 2004 team was the 3A state runner-up.
A lot of people believe Graham is the guy who can elevate the program to match its biggest rivals. He has a lot of grassroots support.
“Parents contacted me first and asked if I’d be interested in the job,” Graham said. “I was interested. It was really kind of late, only about a week before school started. Then I went through the process with the school, and they hired me.”
Graham is not a schoolteacher, but neither is Thad Chrismon, who has had a lot of strong years coaching South Rowan baseball. Graham works as an estimator for a construction firm.
“I’ve learned to be more efficient with my time so I can do my job and still be able to give baseball the time it needs,” Graham said.
Graham is regarded as a “baseball guy” by a lot of people who know baseball. He played at Wilkes Community College and Mars Hill and got started coaching in 2005 as an assistant at Wilkes County Community College. Then he became head coach at Wilkes, enjoyed considerable success there and was named region coach of the year.
Graham went onto assist Jim Gantt at Catawba and with the Rowan County American Legion team. Recently, Graham has been the head coach of the Mooresville Post 66 American Legion team, although he will return to assist Gantt with the Rowan County Legion team this summer.
Graham is entering an unusual situation for a new coach. West Rowan graduated exceptional players — catcher Michael Pinkston, pitcher Michael Ball and outfielder Nick Collins — but it’s not like the Falcons are rebuilding.
Outfielder Harrison Baucom and shortstop Jeremy Simpson, who has signed with Catawba, are fast, talented players. Third baseman Juan Garcia was one of the county’s top hitters last season, and Omar Bautista has been one of the county’s toughest pitchers. Garcia and Bautista played for the elite South Charlotte Panthers travel team last summer. Infielder Noah Teeter is another proven regular in the senior class.
“I’m pretty fortunate that we’ve got 10 seniors and we’ve got eight or nine guys who can pitch,” Graham said. “I walked into a situation where we’ve got a lot of guys who can play, and they’ve really worked in the offseason.
“We had two teams in fall leagues at Mocksville and East Rowan. We had enough for a sophomore/freshman team and a junior/senior team.”
As far as potential breakout guys, Graham is high on pitcher/infielder Austin Love, outfielder/pitcher Kacey Otto and utility player Caleb Link.
The toughest guy to replace is Pinkston. Catchers don’t grown on trees, but that’s a project Graham has worked on since taking the job.
“We had a hole there, but we’ve got three catchers (Lee Poteat, Margarito Romero and Hunter Bernhardt) who have put in a lot of work,” Graham said. “I don’t know who will start, but I’d feel comfortable with any of them.”
Graham knows the South Piedmont Conference is challenging. Carson, South Rowan and East Rowan each won 20-plus games last season, and several of the Cabarrus schools are expected to be stout.
“I recruited a lot of kids in Cabarrus County when I was at Wilkes and Catawba,” Graham said. “There are a lot of good ballplayers down there.”
West Rowan is scheduled to start on Tuesday with a non-conference game against North Iredell. The first scheduled SPC game is March 6 at Northwest Cabarrus.
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