By Scotty Rouse
The Piedmont Pride baseball team’s first year of existence will be a tough act to follow. The Pride, sponsored by the Piedmont Fellowship of Christian Athletes, finished with a 32-7 record, winning the regular season by a whopping 8 games. The only downer for the season was the team’s 6-3 elimination in the second round of the playoffs.
Pride founder and head coach Joe Hudak was ecstatic about his team. “This was just an unbelievable summer”, commented the veteran skipper. “These guys were absolutely phenomenal to coach and to just be around. They were as close a team as I’ve ever coached, which is highly unusual for a summer league team.” The Pride had 28 players from 13 different states and the Dominican Republic. They had players from California, New Jersey, Missouri, Mississippi, Indiana, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The team consisted of 18 Division I players, 7 Division II players, 2 Division III players, and 1 NAIA player.
Offensively, the Pride hit .287, led by Mississippi State OF Tanner Poole (.370-6-4-1-22-25SB), Liberty C/1B Jake Barbee (.352-6-2-3-24), St. Thomas Aquinas 2B Joey “Chips” Pena (.325-3-2-0-18), and Western Carolina 1B/3B Andrew Bullock (.328-6-0-3-15).
On the mound, the Pride staff compiled a tremendous 2.96 ERA. They were led by the “Dynamic Duo” of SE Missouri State’s Jared Waldhoff (5-0, 2.86) and Nyack’s Zack Kamerman (5-1, 1.83). East Tennessee State’s Daniel Sweeney chipped in with a 4-0 record and 2.54 ERA, while Mississippi State closer Ryan Rigby finished with a 2-0 record, a 1.66 ERA, and a league-leading 11 Saves.
As good as the team performed on the field, Hudak was even prouder of his troops off the field. “We had three goals for the summer”, he explained. “We wanted to get better on the baseball field, we wanted to grow in our faith, and we wanted to give back to the community of York County”. The baseball part has already been well documented. The team had a mandatory Friday morning team Bible study, had chapels before some games, and went to church together each Sunday at six different area churches. “Our team chaplain, Scotty Rouse, did a great job of serving our players and leading them”, Hudak said. The players gave back by serving as huddle leaders at local FCA camps, and mentoring boys from the York County Boys and Girls Club. Nine of the Pride players ended the summer by going on a weeklong mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
Hudak was especially thankful for the support the team received from York County residents. “We found out at the last minute that the players were going to have to stay in a Winthrop dorm”, Hudak explained. “This meant we had a $30,000 room and board bill that we hadn’t budgeted. The good people of York County stepped up and helped us pay that bill. We had Foster Families, who adopted a player or two for the summer, and Pride Partners who helped provide meals for our guys. We could not have done it without their help”. Hudak was equally grateful for the opportunity to play his home games at the beautiful Winthrop Ballpark. “We are very thankful to Coach Tom Riginos and AD Tom Hickman for allowing us to rent the Winthrop Ballpark for our home games”, Hudak stated. “We are especially grateful to Winthrop Assistant Coach Josh Odean for taking such good care of the field, and having it in excellent condition for each game”.
Hudak hopes it’s just the start of a great partnership between Winthrop University, York County, and The Pride. “It was a tremendous first year for the Pride:, he continued. “We hope it’s just the beginning of a long and successful partnership”. If the first year is any indication, Rock Hill and York County fans are in for many years of hosting outstanding young men and watching great baseball!