While area high school teams in February adjusted practice around winter, Asheville Christian Academy baseball players were sweating in the heat of the Florida sun.
The Lions returned to Swannanoa with a 1-2 record in the Sunshine State. But those watching them play through March may have wondered if they found a way to bring the heat of the tropics back to the mountains.
The trip down south wasn’t really about baseball, according to first-year head coach J.D. Chaplain. Instead it gave the young coach and his team time to get to know each other and form the type of bond usually required to build a successful team.
“We really got the chance to come together as a team,” Chaplain said. “I got to learn about the players, and the players got to learn about who I am off the field. I thought that was very important for me going into my first year.”
In addition to its role as a team-building activity, the winter trip provided the Lions with some on-field advantages as well.
“It gave me a chance to kind of see where we were,” Chaplain said. “One thing we had an opportunity to do down there that other teams in our area weren’t able to do was practice. I believe that week it was raining and snowing up here, and we’re down there practicing in 80-degree weather.”
The extra training paid off for ACA in a big way - after returning to Swannanoa, the Lions won three games in a five-day span, including a 10-0 win at Chaplain’s alma mater, Owen High School.
The Lions went on to win their next five contests, going 8-0 in March. Only one of its opponents brought more than four runners across the plate.
“It’s a lot easier to score runs when your pitchers aren’t giving up runs,” Chaplain said. “Our pitching staff has been throwing really well, pretty much every game.”
At the center of ACA’s performance on the mound this season has been senior Logan Collie, who was 6-0 for the Lions in seven appearances.
“Logan’s our ace,” Chaplain said. “And when you have your ace throwing well, it’s easier to win games. He’s been really good on the mound. One thing he does really well is he pounds the strike zone and doesn’t walk a lot of guys. That puts a lot of pressure on the hitter.”
Through 32 innings pitched Collie has allowed only seven runs, for an ERA of 0.44. The 6-foot-3 senior has also struck out 53 batters this year.
His bat has been equally problematic for opponents this season. Collie has been productive at the plate, leading the Lions with a .447 batting average and 17 RBIs.
Collie has been the benefactor of a speedy lead-off hitter who has an ability to disrupt opposing pitchers.
Senior Jackson Roeder gets on base more than half of the time, and once he’s there he immediately becomes a threat to advance. His 12 stolen bases in 14 attempts give him an average of a steal per game.
Chaplain said Roeder’s defense is a bright spot in an aspect of the game he would like to see the Lions improve upon during the second half of the season.
“We have not made plays consistently pretty much all year,” Chaplain said. “That’s one thing that we’re really going to address and take care of when we come back from spring break.”
Offensive production is another area of the game in which Chaplain sees room for improvement for the 9-3 Lions.
“We’ve got to get better offensively during the second half,” he said. “We’ve got a few guys that are really swinging the bats well, but we need to find a couple more guys that can swing it to be successful.”
Chaplain’s first 12 games as a head coach have given him a different perspective of the sport he has been playing his entire life.
“It’s been different than I expected it to be,” he said. “I’ve noticed little nuances that you can only really see when you’re coaching. I’ve learned that there are different priorities when filling out a line-up.”