Two years young, but strong nonetheless.
The Catawba Valley Community College baseball team, only in its sophomore season, is having success beyond the wildest of imaginations.
When former Lenoir-Rhyne coach Frank Pait heard about the beginning of a baseball program at CVCC, he saw it as an opportunity to get back into coaching the sport he loves.
“The program was the brain child of our president, Dr. Garrett Hinshaw, who played baseball at Appalachian State,” Pait said. “He and athletic director Jeff Moore wanted to start women’s basketball and men’s baseball programs. Two or three days later, I met with the president, was approved and we were ready to go.”
With a blank slate of roster spots, Pait immediately started working.
Pait brought 11 seasons of experience from Lenoir-Rhyne University, where he is the school’s all-time winningest coach.
He won one South Atlantic Conference Tournament title and two SAC Tournament titles. In 2001, the Bears made NCAA Div. II playoffs.
Along with his experience at L-R, Pait also coached for three seasons at an assistant at Wingate University.
He says all of these experiences helped him develop the Bucs’ baseball program.
“I have been in coaching for 18-19 years,” Pait said. “I have coached in this area, both as a high school coach in Wilkesboro and a college coach at Lenoir-Rhyne. I used the contacts I had in the area from Western North Carolina coaches. I got on the phone, sent letters, sent emails and told coaches we were starting the program. The response was overwhelming.”
Infielder Tripper Crisson, who was the first signee in CVCC’s history, said playing for Pait was a dream of his.
“It is an honor to be the first CVCC player now because we’ve become a good program,” Crisson said. “In our second season, we became the No. 3 team in the nation. Nobody thought we could. It was an honor for me because I lived in Lincolnton and looked up to coach Pait when he was at L-R. I was ready to come to CVCC.”
CVCC baseball team finished 31-20 in its first season under Pait.
The team also earned a berth in the Region 10 tournament in Martinsville, Va.
The Bucs were ranked as high as 14th in the NJCAA Div. II National poll.
“We wanted to have that kind of success,” Pait said. “That was our dream. I had a three-year plan. I think we’ve gotten better, and that is what we want to continue to do.”
Crisson, a member of the CVCC baseball team for two seasons, says coming from winning high school programs helped drive the desire to win in a Bucs’ uniform.
“This team is a good group of guys,” Crisson said. “We all came from programs that love to win. All we do is try to win and work hard every day. Even though we are a new team, we don’t think there is a team that we play against that we can’t beat.”
The Bucs’ Tyler Deaton says familiarity with one another also helped to build a special chemistry.
“Most of us have played together most of our lives,” said infielder Tyler Deaton. “From AAU, legion and high school baseball, we’ve been around each other. It is not a new feeling for us. We know everybody and hang out with everybody. We just come together and play as a whole. I think we just hit our stride at the perfect time.”
This season, the team is already 32-13 and are heading back to the Region 10 Tournament.
The Bucs topped their ranking in last year’s NJCAA poll by being ranked third in the first poll of the season.
“Every day, you can make a new milestone as a team and individually,” Crisson said. “You have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done. This year, we have the record for wins. It has been really fun.”
Pait says the team is on track for even more success on the diamond.
“So far, we’ve exceeded our wins from last year,” Pait said. “Hopefully, we will exceed where we finish in conference and still go to regionals with a chance to win it.”
Deaton has enjoyed his experience on the team.
“It has been a good experience here at CVCC starting up the program,” Deaton said. “The records are being set every day. Starting off brand new with clean slate is pretty fun. You can’t go wrong there.”
The Bucs play their final three games of the regular season this weekend, but they already have their goals set toward the postseason.
“Hopefully, we can end this season with a conference championship and go on to the World Series after regionals,” Crisson said. “We want to end the second season of CVCC baseball the right way.”