Asheville’s Devin Mangum rounds third base and heads for home to score during Monday night’s game against West Henderson at Asheville High. Asheville took the win with a final score of 7-5.
March came in like a lion.
It went out like a Cougar.
Asheville High’s baseball team not only has ability to spare, but confidence in a roster that has produced its most wins (nine) at this stage of a season since Bill Hillier was hired as coach in 2006.
“For the first time in a long time, kids here really believe they are going to show up and win every day,” Hillier said.
“That’s what we always strive for, but it hasn’t always happened. The best thing about this team is that we’re not giving away more than we’re getting. I’ve told them that you’re not always going to show up and out-hit the other team. But if you give away less errors and less walks, and play the game the right way, you give yourself a chance to win. They are really believing in that.”
Yes, they are.
Regardless of what happens this week, the Cougars (9-2, 4-1) are the first-place team in the Mountain Athletic Conference’s 3-A division. Their starting lineup on most days is comprised of five seniors and four juniors.
Hillier said this is his first season without any sophomores or freshmen on Asheville’s varsity roster.
“What’s special about this team is that we’re all best friends, on and off the field,” Cougars senior outfielder/pitcher Devin Mangum said.
“We play hard for each other. We believe in each other.”
Mangum has committed to play college baseball for Furman. And the right-hander who mixes an occasional changeup and slider in with his fastball has developed into one of the best aces that any MAC team can throw.
Mangum was feeling it Friday in Marion. He pitched a complete game one-hit shutout with one walk and four strikeouts as the Cougars won at McDowell, 2-0.
Mangum’s catcher is Jared Patterson, who was 3-for-5 with two RBIs, a stolen base and a walk last week in MAC wins over Enka and McDowell.
Shortstop Sam Weidie is batting a team-high .395, followed by Mangum (.355), Patterson (.343), Neal Hutchins (.343), Miles Moore (.303) and Tevin Salters (.303).
“The great thing about this team is that we enjoy each other and we make teams beat us, instead of beating ourselves,” Weidie said.
“Our pitchers have been incredible. You get to relax and know that if we just make the routine plays behind them, then we’ll be OK.”
Asheville’s next MAC game is Tuesday at home against 4-A leader Roberson (6-4, 5-0).
Moore said that past troubles in the Asheville program haven’t plagued this year’s team.
“Not doing the little things has always hurt us,” Moore said.
“We’ve had problems with that. But everyone on this team has grown up together, whether it’s Little League or middle school. And we’re having loads of fun. There’s a great bond. Hopefully, it will really push us forward.”