Southern Durham was a consistent powerhouse in baseball 15-20 years ago, but with a changing population the Spartans – who have continued to be highly competitive in higher profile sports – have struggled to keep up with their neighbors.
The Spartans, members of the Big 8 3A Conference who had had three consecutive single-win seasons heading into the campaign, have won twice this year and sit at 2-10 overall (0-6 Big 8).
“We just need to have better focus, and part of that is on me,” said veteran Southern coach and former Shaw baseball player Avery Bryant, who has led the Spartans to 15 wins in his six-plus seasons at the helm including half a dozen victories in 2013. “We have to keep working on the mental aspects every day.”
The Spartans, who have just three seniors on the roster, compete against Big 8 rivals who are loaded with baseball-first athletes who have played since they were tykes.
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“We don’t have many year-round players like that,” Bryant said. “But I feel like we can teach good athletes how to play good baseball, and we’re working with what we have. We do a few off-season workouts, but we have so many guys playing other sports we can’t do much team work with two or three guys.”
Two of Southern’s seniors are Tyre Stephens and Jhon Cole.
Stephens pitches and plays shortstop while Cole played short, third and right field in the Spartans’ game with Hillside on Thursday.
“We just have to get rid of the errors we’re making, and I think a lot of that is because we’re so young,” said Stephens, who started baseball at about age 7 and has been on the varsity since he was a freshman. “We just need to keep our heads in the game, work hard in practice and do our best.”
Cole, who has also been on the varsity for four years, grew up in Antigua where he said he was involved in the national youth program.
“We’ve just got to come out as a team and do our job,” Cole said. “As seniors we have to help the coaches get across to the young guys what they can learn from baseball. If you’re late or you don’t work hard, there can always be someone there to take your place.”