ASHEVILLE – With Buncombe County baseball, the next wave of talent is always just around the bend.
Part of that next wave are Enka’s Jack Ponder (UNC Greensboro) and Roberson’s Collin Watt (East Carolina), a couple rising seniors who have committed to Division I colleges.
Watt was an All-Mountain Athletic Conference shortstop/third baseman/pitcher for the Rams (24-4) this past season.
He hit .346 with 15 RBIs, eight doubles, six stolen bases and a home run. On the mound, Watt had two saves, a 5.41 earned-run average and nine strikeouts in 10.1 innings pitched.
His showcase team is the Impact Baseball Dirtbags and Watt was selected to represent Western North Carolina in this month’s State Games of North Carolina tournament.
“The coaching staff at East Carolina is unbelievable,” Watt said.
“(Pirates coach Cliff Godwin) cares so much about the kids and you can see the time and energy that he puts into it. They have such great chemistry. Thinking and knowing that you could be part of something special was definitely something I thought about when it came to my decision.”
East Carolina went 28-3-1 this past season and won the NCAA Charlottesville Regional which included a walkoff win over defending national champion Virginia.
“To get an opportunity to play for coach Godwin, a guy I know personally, is phenomenal,” Roberson coach Eric Filipek said.
“He is a hard-nosed guy that is going to push Collin. Collin sets his goals high and he wants to be pushed.”
Watt is the fourth player from Roberson’s MAC 4-A championship team to make a college commitment. The others are graduated seniors Trenton Davis (Campbell) and Nate Fore (Belmont Abbey) along with fellow rising senior Garrett Blaylock (Vanderbilt).
Ponder is a right-handed pitcher who had a 3.59 earned-run average with a team-high 59 strikeouts this spring for the Jets (8-16). Eleven of those K’s came on April 8 when Ponder no-hit McDowell in a 1-0 Mountain Athletic Conference win.
Ponder plays in the offseason for the Matthews-based Showcase Baseball Academy and credits local coach Darin Chaplin for much of his development as a pitcher.
Ponder will presumably be reunited with a former Jets pitcher for the 2018 season. Matt Frisbee just completed his first year at UNCG and was named to the Southern Conference All-Freshman team.
“With (Frisbee) already being there, I knew what to expect,” Ponder said.
“It’s a beautiful campus and has a newer feel to it. It seemed like whatever you needed as an athlete or student, they had it. I’m excited to be a part of this.”
Right now is really a high-water mark for Buncombe baseball.
The Asheville American Legion Post 70 team just clinched its first district championship since 1947. The Cardinals (13-1) have already set a regular-season record for wins with two more games to go.
Erwin alum Garrett Brown has begun his professional career with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rookie-level team in Bristol, Va. Brown was a 23rd round pick in this month’s major league draft and is a 2011 Warriors graduate.
Five other Buncombe players are currently active in pro baseball – 2005 Roberson grad Cameron Maybin (an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers), 2007 Roberson grad Justin Jackson (a pitcher for the independent Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers), 2014 Roberson grad Braxton Davidson (a minor-league outfielder for the Atlanta Braves organization), 2007 Reynolds grad Sam Runion (a minor-league pitcher for the Washington National organization) and 2010 Christ School grad Champ Stuart (a minor-league outfielder for the New York Mets organization).
Former Asheville Christian Academy pitcher Bailey Clark, who last pitched for the Lions in 2013, was selected in the fifth round of the MLB draft by the Chicago Cubs. He and the MLB team had not yet agreed on a contract as of Tuesday.