“We’re not just on a team—we’re also all brothers and friends,” junior Jake McNeil said. “We all connect on a baseball level and a friendship level. I think it comes naturally.”
Baseball has been one of Northwood’s most consistent and successful sports, making the playoffs for 11 straight years. Some attribute this success to head coach Rick Parks.
The Chargers have made it to the playoffs ever since Parks became the head coach, having a winning record and making it to the final four in 2013. They have also made it to the regional series in the past. This year, the team finished 19-4, winning their conference, and had three out of six seniors sign with a college team.
This season, like many times before, the baseball team clicked because many of the current players have played together since childhood. Junior Max Hundley believes that playing on the East Chatham little league teams set the tone for Chatham County baseball.
“When we were younger growing up, the little league teams were always really good,” Hundley said. “It was always successful when we were young, and everyone kept going.”
Hundley and current teammates then moved onto Team North Carolina, a travel baseball team based out of Chapel Hill.
“It definitely helps chemistry,” Hundley said. “It always helps win games when you know who you’re playing, and you’re more comfortable with the guys you’re playing with.”
Had work and dedication has also proved to be successful this season for the Chargers.
“I think heart has a big thing to do with it,” Parks said.”I think that the dedication to a sport as far as wanting to get better and continuing to work out at that sport year round [is important]. Baseball is a real tough sport—you can’t just put it away and then pick it back up. We’ve gotten to a point here at Northwood to where we definitely encourage our guys to play multiple sports, but even if they’re playing multiple sports, it’s tough to keep up with the other teammates on the team if you’re not at least hitting and throwing if you’re a pitcher in the offseason. We’ve gotten to a place now where all that stuff is done regularly without me having to say it. The kids know that they have to put the work in.”
The baseball team also has a summer league that allows players to play and work during the offseason.
“The summer ball really just started to make sure the kids could continue playing in the summer,” Parks said. “When a community has a culture of baseball, it goes on. They call it the boys of summer for a reason. You learn by experience and trial and error, and seeing these guys, and just getting out there and playing and playing and playing, trying to fix as many situations as you can. When you play a baseball game, you always see something you’ve never seen before. That’s still true in my 11 seasons here at Northwood. It’s been a really good time.”
Hundley believes that the team’s relationship is what sets the team apart from other schools.
“All of our guys are so close and we’ve grown up together,” Hundley said. “We’ve played together for so long that I think it just helps us play well together.”
McNeil believes that the transition into high school ball is easier after playing with your current teammates outside of school.
“I’ve played on travel teams with most of the kids in my grade,” McNeil said. “Having played with them growing up, you get used to it, and you know how to work with them on a team and don’t have to adapt.”
Along with close bonds, talent has been a factor in the team’s success.
“It’s very rare that you have a very talented team and a very team-oriented team,” Parks said. “There’s camaraderie between the players. When you have those two things that come the same year, that’s when you can have a very special team. That doesn’t always work out. We have playoffs starting this week, but we finished 19-4 this year, and a lot of that had to do with the comradery of the players and the talent.”
The baseball team went down to Emerald Isle during spring break to face Croatan High School, winning three out of three games. Hundley believes that the beach trips bring the team even closer than they already are.
“Going down there, being in a house with everybody for three or four days, you just get closer with everybody,” Hundley said. “Even if you’re already close with somebody, you’re with them four days straight, and it helps everybody come together.”
Parks agrees that the trip also helps bring the team closer.
“We try to do it every other year,” Parks said. “It’s the whole brotherhood type thing. Any time players are together long enough to where they can start to get on each other’s nerves, that’s when you’re creating family. We’re really big about being supportive. We try to be on each other’s team and support one another. It was pretty cool—by the fourth night out there, they were getting on each other’s nerves just like your brothers and sisters would do.”
– By Cooper Patterson