Millbrook junior shortstop Scott McKeon struggled early in his first varsity baseball season to fill the role as the Wildcats’ successor to Brian Miller, the school’s all-time hits leader now at North Carolina.
“I had to tell him, ‘You have to be Scott. You can’t be anyone else,’” said Millbrook coach Austin James said. “We worked on things daily in practice. He was always asking for extra reps. He’s a fantastic shortstop we can rely on every day. He started to swing the bat better. Toward second half of the year, he may have been our best hitter.”
Millbrook (21-12) was the surprise story of the season. The No.21 seed in the East Region finished as the state runner-up in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A. The Wildcats dropped a best-of-3 series that finished with a Game 3 loss to Charlotte Providence Day (31-4), the nation’s No. 21-ranked team by MaxPreps, on Saturday night at Five County Stadium.
McKeon was 4-of-8 in the state series, including a two-run triple in the sixth inning of Friday’s 4-3 victory. He batted .329 (26 of 79).
“I was 0 for 20-something to start the season,” McKeon said. “But as the season went along, I saw the pitches better and had a better two-strike approach. (Assistant coach Mike) Christos helped me a lot.”
In the field, McKeon re-focused on making routine outs and let the big plays comenaturally.
“I was trying to make plays I couldn’t make,” McKeon said. “I would rush myself. As a shortstop you have to make plays to win.”
With his fielding back in a rhythm, he pulled off tougher plays. He judged a fifth-inning catch Saturday his best “in a big moment.”
With Providence runners on first and third and two outs, McKeon ran after a blooper into center field and left his feet to make a diving over-the-shoulder catch. That kept Millbrook within a 3-2 deficit, although Providence broke open the game with seven runs in the sixth.
The Wildcats will turn their off-season focus to 2016. In addition to McKeon, other returning junior starters are left fielder Bryce Carnevale, designated-hitter/pitcher Andrew Strickland, right fielder Tyler Eckert and pitcher/third baseman Reid Herring.
“This group raised the standard just a little bit higher, which I’m excited about,” James said. “The juniors – many of whom were our most productive players at the end of the year – and sophomores and the freshman we brought up for the playoffs know how hard it is.
“It’s a grind every single week to advance in the playoffs. They understand they have to work like this group going out did to get back (to the state finals).”