Bevy of college baseball talent to push Nation Ford, Fort Mill

Herald correspondentMarch 15, 2014 

  • Players to watch

    • Dupree Hart, Northwestern – junior shortstop is one of the best defenders in the area, and also a reliable threat to get on base as the Trojan leadoff man.

    • Josh Crump, Northwestern – senior outfielder who can really cover ground signed with Coastal Carolina in the fall.

    • Will Reid, Rock Hill – 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior pitcher is committed to the College of Charleston.

    • Isaac Rodgers, Rock Hill – another junior pitcher standing around 6-foot-3, Rodgers should emerge as a talented arm for the Bearcats this spring.

    • Josh Massey, South Pointe – senior outfielder is committed to play baseball and football at The Citadel.

    • Evan Sisk, Lewisville – junior lefty was an All-Area pitcher last spring for the Lions, who are ranked No. 4 in the Class A state rankings early in the season.

    • Jake Wright, Chester – sophomore outfielder/pitcher was All-Area as a freshman for the Cyclones.

    • Chris Cantrell, Indian Land – senior pitcher was an All-Area selection last season.

    • Mike Webb, Indian Land – junior catcher was an All-Area selection last spring for the Warriors.

    • Dalton Helms, Nation Ford – senior pitcher was All-Area Player of the Year last year; committed to Campbell to play football.

    • Brandon Fite, Nation Ford – junior committed to Winthrop over the summer, and was an honorable mention All-Area selection last year after batting .389.

    • Rashun Cloud, Lancaster – senior right-handed pitcher has committed to USC Lancaster.

    • Brett Netzer, Fort Mill – senior infielder is committed to Charlotte after an All-Area junior season in which he batted .377 with a couple of homers.

    • Jaden Savage, Fort Mill – senior outfielder hit .433 last season as an All-Area selection and will play in college at USC Upstate.

    • Ryan Gilbert, York – junior right-handed pitcher should emerge after a solid sophomore season for the Cougars.

— Call it a coincidence or maybe it’s something in the water, but the talent pool for baseball players runs deep throughout Fort Mill Township.

Between Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools, the teams can almost field a mini-college baseball squad with the number of college commitments and those already signed to play at the next level.

Both schools have four signed or committed athletes that will be playing college baseball in one to two years, covering eight of the nine positions needed on the field.

For both coaches – Fort Mill’s Brad Mercer, who is beginning his seventh year with the team, and Nation Ford’s Mike Matkovich, who is in his second year with the team – it’s not really a surprise how talented their teams are.

“A lot of kids are playing a lot of baseball, most are playing year-round,” Mercer said. “The biggest thing is kids get so much exposure and it attracts good competition. A lot of it is from the tradition we (Fort Mill High) have had. This is an attractive area.”

Since the school has opened in the early 1950s, Fort Mill has won three state championships in baseball, been runner-up three other times and won countless region titles and has been a constant in the playoffs for nearly the past 50 years. During that time they have also produced 10 minor league players, seven which have come since 2001.

However a lot of the success within Fort Mill can be traced back to players starting early in the sport.

“The youth programs and travel ball has a lot to do with it,” Matkovich said. “They are always around it.”

Another reason Fort Mill players excel at the sport has to do with the socio-economics of the area, Matkovich said. The Fort Mill/Tega Cay area tends to be an affluent one which allows parents to spend the sometimes thousands of dollars for their child’s baseball development. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the median household income in Fort Mill is about $67,000 and about $110,000 for Tega Cay.

“Baseball is expensive and we have the ability to send kids to camps,” Matkovich said.

Along with camps, many local players play the sport year-round with the help of travel baseball and showcase events.

“The showcase teams help a lot,” said Fort Mill catcher Justin Tepper, who is going to Limestone College. “You go right from (high) school ball, to summer ball, to fall ball.”

Because South Carolina has nice weather for most of the year, being able to get outside and play the game helps as well. However, travel teams also take advantage of the competitions held in other states, like Florida and Georgia, in helping players hone their abilities.

“Everybody grew up playing baseball,” said Nation Ford pitcher Cole Avery, who is committed to North Greenville University. “They (players) showcase themselves more. It makes you want to work harder because you know you got guys behind you that could take your spot.”

Current Nation Ford and Fort Mill recruits with signed or verbal commitments

Fort Mill

Justin Tepper – Limestone College

Brett Netzer – UNC Charlotte

Jaden Savage – USC Upstate

Clay Helvey – College of Charleston*

Nation Ford

Chris Cash – USC Sumter

Cole Avery – North Greenville

Clay Hunt – College of Charleston*

Brandon Fite – Winthrop*

*= juniors that can only give verbal agreements at this point

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