Changing times at PisgahDiamond Bears within reach of elusive WNCAC baseball championship
CANTON — One look at the WNC Athletic Conference baseball standings, one can easily see it’s a two team race for the championship.
The Pisgah varsity baseball team is on the verge of making a special year even better.
The Black Bears (14-1, 9-0 WNCAC) currently hold a one-game lead over West Henderson (12-3, 8-1 WNCAC) and manager Harold Shepard’s ballclub can go two games up with four conference games left in the regular season with a win over the Falcons on Monday in Mills River.
A loss to West Henderson puts the two teams in a tie for first.
Beyond the two-team heated race to win the conference pennant, the other six WNCAC teams are facing elimination next week if Pisgah beats West Henderson and winning enough games just to reach the .500 mark.
Brevard (6-9, 5-4 WNCAC) is a distant third and currently three-games under .500 overall, while Smoky Mountain (5-10, 4-5 WNCAC) stands alone in fourth place, five games back of Pisgah and five games under .500.
Already eliminated from contention is East Henderson, Tuscola, North Henderson and Franklin.
After Monday’s showdown in Mills River with West Henderson, the Black Bears finish the regular season hosting Tuscola (April 29) and North Henderson (May 2) and traveling to Smoky Mountain (May 6) and Brevard (May 8) before the first round of the state playoffs start Tuesday, May 13.
Soild hitting and effective pitching has put Pisgah, which is ranked No. 2 in Class 3-A by Impact Baseball, in a position to win at least a share of the conference championship.
Offensively, Pisgah is scoring 7.9 runs per game and hitting at a .364 clip with 25 doubles, a triple, five homers and have swiped 43 bases. A total of nine Black Bears are hitting over .300 on the season.
Leading the team at the plate with a .553 average is junior outfielder Mason Fox, followed by senior Holt Underwood (.422), senior Nathan Summey (.404), sophomore Bryce Burgess (.386), junior Trevor Johnson (.383), junior Thomas Tatham (.333), junior Lucas Hall (.316), junior Josiah Ledford (.316) and junior Micah Ledford (.304).
In addition to batting averages, Fox leads Pisgah in hits (29) and stolen bases (10), while Summey is tops in doubles (8), triples (1), runs scored (20) and Tatham leads the Black Bears’ in RBI (21) and home runs (3).
While the bats have been productive all season, Pisgah has played a relatively sound defense, committing just 21 errors in 15 games. But the half-dozen arms Shepard puts on the mound have been very impressive, combining for a 1.44 ERA.
The top three pitchers for Pisgah are Burgess, who is 4-1 on the season with a 0.23 ERA, while Tatham (25 Ks) is 4-0 with an 0.91 ERA and Underwood is 3-0 with a 2.26 ERA.
Since 2000, Pisgah has won conference championships in football, volleyball, wrestling, boys and girls basketball, softball, girls golf and no one in Canton has forgotten the state championships in softball and basketball.
However, baseball at Pisgah has been one of the few sports programs shutout from a conference title. Excluding this season’s 14-1 record, Pisgah has amassed a not so impressive 50-81 overall record since 2008 on the baseball diamond.
So why this newly discovered success?
Approximately 10 years ago, Steve Ledford formed a Canton-based traveling baseball team of local boys called the Canton Riverdogs.
Under the instruction of Coach Ledford, his Riverdogs were one of the most successful USSSA teams in the state at age 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 years old. Eight members of his ballclub (Hall, junior catcher Ben Williams, the Ledford twins, Fox, Johnson, Tatham and Underwood) are currently playing and starting for the Pisgah varsity team.
With five WNCAC games remaining, Coach Shepard has guided his Pisgah baseball squad within reach of that elusive conference championship. Although he doesn’t want any credit, the bulk of the credit should go to Coach Ledford for what he did 10 years ago. Fans can find him sitting in the stands watching his boys — all his boys — play baseball.
How times are changing at Pisgah High.