By Drake Horton
Entering his fourth year as head coach of the Darlington Falcons baseball team, Dennis Gearhart is starting to look back and see where his program has grown in the four years under his tutelage now that he is in possession of his first senior class as a head coach.
“Overall, I have seen a lot of growth out of this group,” Gearhart said. “They have come a long way. We have a lot of varsity experience and we are hoping that it can be the turning point for us to get a little bit deeper in the playoffs.”
That deeper run in the playoffs is something that has eluded the Falcons over the past few years, but with some of the returning players, especially who Gearhart has returning on the mound, there is a reason to have optimism that this could be a potentially special year.
Heading into the season, pitching was seen as the strong suit for this team and so far that thought has held up well. Originally thought to be a three-headed monster with Anthony Hopkins, Chase Weatherford and Gage Weatherford, the Falcons are down to just the two Weatherfords at the moment with Hopkins currently sidelined with an injury.
“Hopkins signed with North Greenville, but he is battling some arm injuries right now; we’re not quite sure when we will get him back,” Gearhart said. “Our starting pitching is definitely our strength of the team. Chase (Weatherford) and Gage (Weatherford) are both throwing well right now. Follow that up, I think we found a pretty good group off guys to put in the field and play defense. The thing we are struggling with right now and need to improve on quickly is our hitting at the plate. We’ve had a lot of opportunities we just haven’t come through at the right time.”
If Hopkins is able to return to the form that we have seen him pitch at over the past three years, it just leaves the offense that Gearhart spoke of to come through and help carry the Falcons the rest of the way. Getting the offense going will be key in Darlington’s pursuit of not only making the playoffs, but competing for the region championship.
Gearhart believes it is only a matter of time before the bats begin to wake up and give the Falcons what they need from a scoring standpoint. “It’s early in the season; a lot of times the pitching starts out ahead of the hitting and as it warms up the hitting warms up, too,” Gearhart said. “That is one of our daily focuses — getting our cuts in and being adaptable, changing our approach based on the situation.”
Having it all come together is pivotal when it comes to Darlington’s chances of competing for the region as there are no easy nights in a region that boasts some of the best baseball programs in the area. “We have to take each day, each game, game by game, inning by inning, pitch by pitch. We just ask the guys to show up and give 100 percent effort every day and hopefully things work in our favor.”