Nothing that Seth Pierce does would suggest the Northwest Whitfield pitcher is just a cub in a den of bears.
With his stout frame, he doesn’t look like a freshman. With his confidence and his ability, he doesn’t act like a freshman. And with a fastball topping out in the mid-80s, a curveball that can give opposing hitters jelly legs and a changeup to keep them off balance, he certainly doesn’t pitch like a freshman.
Local high school baseball fans found that out quickly this season as the left-handed Pierce led the area with nine victories — he also had one save — and showed overpowering dominance with 89 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings pitched. He finished his first season on the hill in Tunnel Hill with a 9-3 record and a 1.71 ERA while allowing 61 hits and 23 walks.
For his efforts, Pierce has been selected as The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Baseball Player of the Year.
He’s the lone selection for the Bruins on this year’s all-area team, where he’s joined by Christian Heritage’s Michael McKinney; Coahulla Creek’s Scout Plott and Josh Swinford; Dalton’s Carter Gillean, Jake Roberts and Grant Sane; North Murray’s Dylan Silvers; and Southeast Whitfield’s Blake Foster and Rhett Harper. The team was selected by The Daily Citizen’s sports staff based on input from area coaches.
Northwest remained in the hunt for the Class 4A state playoffs until the final week of the regular season this year, and the Bruins went 15-11 to finish with a winning record for the first time in three years. Obviously, Pierce was a big part of that — but even he didn’t know how much of an impact he would have this season.
“I honestly didn’t know what to expect in high school,” said Pierce, who transferred to Northwest before his freshman year from Chattanooga’s McCallie School. “I had thrown a perfect game against Baylor as an eighth-grader, but I knew the high school hitters would be much tougher. I was just determined to go out and work hard and do the best I could.”
His best was pretty impressive, and this season featured plenty of young guns in the area as many of the top pitchers were non-seniors. Pierce’s main competition for top all-area honors came from Coahulla Creek sophomore Braiden Jacobs, who led the area with a 1.18 ERA while going 6-1 and driving the Colts to the GHSA Class 2A state playoffs in their inaugural season. McKinney, a junior, went 8-0 to help lead Christian Heritage to the GISA Class 2A state quarterfinals.
But Pierce’s sheer volume of work, the quality wins against Class 4A competition and his overwhelming power numbers pushed him to the top.
“When you see him on the mound, it is easy to forget that you have this freshman going up against 17- and 18-year-old kids and just mowing them down,” Northwest coach Todd Middleton said. “The first week or so, we knew he would be our No. 1 starter. We knew he would be good, but it was evident pretty early that he was something special.”
His first appearance was a harbinger of the success to come. He pitched five scoreless innings of relief against Gordon Lee as the Bruins won in extra innings. In his first start, he struck out 14 to lead Northwest to a win over rival Dalton.
“Mentally, I knew that it would be a test each time that I went out,” Pierce said. “Every time that we went to Lambert, Cass, South Forsyth or Johns Creek, it was going to be a battle. But I trust my defense, and that is what got me through this year.”
Pierce’s three losses all came in Region 7-4A play — once to Creekview and twice to South Forsyth — and even in the losses he made an impression on the other team.
“That kid is, arguably speaking, one of the best arms if not the best arm in this region,” South Forsyth coach Russ Bayer told The Forsyth News after Pierce held the War Eagles scoreless through five innings in a 2-0 win over the Bruins. “He’s shut down a lot of very good teams. That kid is something special now. He’ll be even more special later.”
For all of the accolades, Pierce sees plenty of room for improvement.
“I’ve got to do a better job of spotting up all of my pitches, do a better job of working ahead in the count and work on my pickoff move,” Pierce said. “I have been looking to get my changeup better. It is getting there, but it has need for improvement.”
To hear him talk, you would think Pierce got shelled this year, but Middleton said that is just the way the youngster keeps working harder.
“Seth is really self-motivated,” Middleton said. “I don’t ever see it as a problem with him getting satisfied. The thing he had to deal with this year was dealing with failures for the first time. He was so dominating in middle school, he was going to have some setbacks this year. He handled that very well.”
It was that kind of determination that made his freshman year an easy transition. Coming into a new school with a set of upperclassmen leaders in place, Pierce didn’t expect to be treated special. He said he took some rookie ribbing, but success on the mound was bound to earn some quick respect.
“I dealt with a lot of seniors who really took me in and coaches who were always trying to help me get better,” he said. “They accepted me quickly, and I needed that coming into a school where I didn’t know anyone. Everything clicked well with everyone.”
Pierce has big dreams. He is already closely monitoring his grade point average with the hopes of getting an athletic scholarship to Georgia Tech, and he has even bigger dreams after that.
“Of course, playing pro baseball is the ultimate goal,” he said.
He’s off to a great start.
Here is a look at the rest of this year’s all-area lineup:
• Scout Plott, Coahulla Creek, C: The cliché for catchers is they’re coaches on the field. But Plott, a junior, did much more than just call pitches and frame fastballs on the outside edge. While he did plenty of that in helping the Colts pitching staff, his contributions were many.
At the plate, he hits .435 with 17 runs, 12 RBIs and eight doubles. He also dodged the myth that catchers can’t run with six stolen bases as the Colts mastered the art of point-to-point small ball.
“Scout is a wall behind the plate,” Colts coach Michael Bolen said. “He blocks everything. He has outstanding feet and a fantastic arm, which shut down any hope of opposing team’s plans to run. He led the team in batting average, but the scary thing is that he still has tons of room left for improvement.”
This is Plott’s first all-area selection.
• Jake Roberts, Dalton, 1B: In an age of bats designed for less power at the plate, Roberts was a diesel-powered engine among a fleet of four-cylinder motors.
The area’s leader in home runs with five, Roberts batted .402 with 28 runs and 24 RBIs. He played first base and served as the Catamounts’ designated hitter when he wasn’t in the field.
“He did a tremendous job,” Dalton coach Bob Brotherton said. “He hit some balls that you aren’t supposed to be hitting with those new bats. He was a terror most of the year.”
Only a sophomore, this is Roberts’ first selection to the team.
• Grant Sane, Dalton, 2B: Sane provided some pop in a position not necessarily known for being a run producer.
Another underclassman standout, the sophomore scored 28 runs and drove in 21 more with his .354 batting average.
“We started him out at third, and as we progressed and needed to get more offense in the lineup, he moved to second and did a tremendous job,” Brotherton said. “He really worked hard to learn the position, but from an offensive standpoint, he produced as well as anyone in the area at second.”
This is his first appearance in the all-area lineup.
• Dylan Silvers, North Murray, 3B: The Mountaineers’ staple at the hot corner, Silvers knew how to find gaps in the outfield and holes in the infield, producing seemingly every night and leading the team with a .423 average.
He also could stretch those hits out — he notched eight doubles and a triple — and scored 18 runs while driving in 12.
“He was definitely our go-to guy,” North Murray coach Steve Granger said. “If we needed something, we could always count on him to come through. He has progressed every year and gotten better. He is constantly working on his game.”
This is the senior’s second straight all-area selection.
• Blake Foster, Southeast Whitfield, SS: Just a sophomore, Foster has already made a name for himself as a two-time selection to The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Football Team, but he’s plenty talented on the diamond as well.
The second-leading hitter in the area with a .446 average, Foster had seven doubles, a triple, a homer and drove in 18 runs. He had an on-base percentage of .476 and was stellar at shortstop for the Raiders.
“Blake was just real consistent all year,” Southeast coach Brad Lofton said. “He got off to a slow start, but once he got hot, he stayed hot.”
During the stretch run of the season, Foster put together a 14-game hitting streak.
“You know when he walks to the plate, he is going to drive it somewhere,” Lofton said.
Foster earned honorable mention last year.
• Carter Gillean, Dalton, OF: A big contributor on both the football field and the diamond in his final two years with the Cats, Gillean will be playing at Tennessee Temple University next season — he signed an athletic scholarship with the Chattanooga school earlier this month — after another stellar year for Brotherton’s team.
The right fielder was the team’s leading hitter with a .435 average and finished with an on-base percentage of .562, guaranteeing the Cats of a baserunner every other time he went to the plate. He finished his senior year with seven doubles, a home run and 19 RBIs while scoring 18 runs.
“This is the second year running where he has led our team in hitting,” Brotherton said. “He did a great job in the outfield, and his best pitching game was the last game he pitched. He went out on a high note.”
This is Gillean’s second straight all-area selection.
• Rhett Harper, Southeast Whitfield, OF: A gem of a defender in center for the Raiders, Harper had just two errors this season in 26 games and batted .364.
He led Southeast in scoring and had an on-base percentage of .507. In the field, he finished the year with four defensive assists, nailing runners at third and at the plate.
“He is a very, very good defensive outfielder,” Lofton said. “He made plays that I didn’t think he would get to. He makes hard plays look routine. He’s got a great arm, and he is one of those guys that when you put him out the grass, he is going to get to it.”
Harper was an honorable mention selection last year and has been a two-time selection for all-area football.
• Josh Swinford, Coahulla Creek, OF: A senior, Swinford led the area in hitting with a .471 average with 17 runs scored, and his seven stolen bases led the Colts.
With speed and great range in center for the Colts, at the plate Swinford had five doubles, a triple and showed some pop with a homer. Hitting at the top of the order, Swinford was an All-Region 7-2A selection as well.
“Josh anchored the outfield from his center field position,” Bolen said. “He reads the ball off the bat well and covers a lot of ground.”
This is the first all-area selection for Swinford, who will play in college for Tennessee’s Maryville.
• Michael McKinney, Christian Heritage, UTIL: One of the most versatile players in the area, McKinney was a standout for the Lions on the mound and at the plate.
As a pitcher, McKinney had a pair of saves to go with his undefeated mark. In 58 innings pitched, the junior had 59 strikeouts with a 2.17 ERA. In the batter’s box, he led the Lions with 29 RBIs while hitting .301 with three home runs.
“He is invaluable,” Christian Heritage coach Noah Stokes said. “He is a quality kid all the way around — on the field, off the field, on the mound, in the box, in the classroom. I would like to have 100 just like him. He kept working all year, and this was a down year for him at the plate and he still drove in nearly 30 (runs) on the year. On the mound, he was still reliable and steady.”
McKinney hit .400 as a freshman and .500 as a sophomore. He was an honorable mention selection for all-area baseball last year and was a member of the all-area basketball team this year as well.
• Honorable mention: Christian Heritage — Jake Stokes (So., LF), Tre Mason (Jr., C), Spencer Robbins (Fr., 1B); Coahulla Creek — Braiden Jacobs (So., P), Austin Busby (Sr., 3B), Tyler Higgins (Sr., RF); Dalton — Brady Willocks (Sr., UTIL), Dakota Tankersley (So., C); North Murray — Aaron Granger (So., UTIL), Gavin Ledford (Sr., OF), Ethan Lents (Jr., P); Northwest — Nick Stavrow (Sr., 3B), Edwin Hernandez (Fr., 1B), Brady Middleton (Jr., 2B), Andy Whisenant (So., P); Southeast — Esgardo Chavarria (Sr., 3B), Jose Vargas (Jr., C), Abram Stanley (So., UTIL).
Nothing that Seth Pierce does would suggest the Northwest Whitfield pitcher is just a cub in a den of bears.
Spring football: Teams looking for answers
Dalton High School football coach Matt Land expects Jase Chastain, Zek Cobb and Payton Veraldi to be on the field plenty next season.Continued ...
- A Look Ahead: The dominant sport
- A Look Ahead: Postseason shifts up to higher gear
- Middle School: CHS netters split
- Devin Golden: QB races dominate spring practice storylines
- May 3, 2013
- Bruins host 4A baseball series, Lions head for Macon
- May 2, 2013
- Prep roundup: Raiders soccer rolls on the road to second round
- Middle school roundup: Lady Lions cap undefeated year
- Apr 24, 2013
- Prep roundup: North Murray boys soccer is No. 1 in Region 5-3A
- Apr 23, 2013
- Champs again
- Soccer Colts shoot out of the gate, beat Ringgold
- Apr 21, 2013
- Important numbers
- Chris Whitfield: Catching up on (golf) courses this spring
- Apr 19, 2013
- Prep Roundup: Powerful performance keeps Mountaineers in running
- Apr 17, 2013
- Prep roundup: Rivalry win helps North Murray boys tennis take second in region
- Spring football: Teams looking for answers