by Andrew Stark
Covenant Day baseball coach David Houseton issued a simple challenge at the beginning of the season, and his Lions have followed it to a tee. It sounds easy enough, but Houseton challenged his team to go the whole season without losing consecutive games, and so far it hasn’t.
After losing on April 20 to Indian Trail Metrolina Christian, 5-1, at the Covenant Day ribbon-cutting dedication ceremony for its Warner Park Expansion project, the Lions bounced back to take a thrilling 6-5 victory the next day over Arden Christ School on a walk-off hit by senior Taylor Fisher after they blew a two-run, ninth inning lead.
But resiliency has been the norm for the Lions, and there has not been a lot of losing, much less losing back-to-back games, as they’ve begun the season 14-5 overall.
“It has been a really good year so far,” said junior catcher Garrett Vaughn. “We feel like we have done a lot of really good things, but I don’t think we have reached our full potential yet as a team.
“I think we can do a little bit more, like hit the ball better, but Coach has us working toward that every day in practice.”
Last year, Houseton’s second season with the team, the Lions won a school-record 21 games and, with a roster loaded with young talent, the foundation was set for this year. As the Lions have moved into their new lavish Warner Park field, the wins have followed and shot the Lions’ confidence sky high.
“I still think we can put it all together,” said sophomore pitcher/shortstop Michael Henry. “Some days, we will pitch well but not swing the bat, and others we will swing the bat and not play good defensively. I know if we could put it all together, we would be really good.”
Houseton said he has shuffled his lineup some this season, allowing everyone to get involved in the offense and play a role in the Lions’ success. There have been some standout performances, and that’s encouraging to Houseton, especially considering most players will return next year.
On the mound, Henry has been one of the area’s best hurlers and has posted a 4-0 record and 2.28 ERA with 21 strikeouts and one save. At the plate, he’s batting .295 with a home run and 27 RBIs, and he’s scored 20 runs and tallied seven stolen bases.
Sophomore Peter Englert leads the Lions with a .457 batting average and has 19 RBIs while scoring 24 runs. On the mound, he’s a perfect 3-0.
Vaughn is hitting .381 with a home run and 25 RBIs, and he’s thrown out 11 would-be base stealers from behind the plate.
Fisher, a senior center fielder and Belmont Abbey College commit, is hitting .354 with two home runs, 24 RBIs and has 19 stolen bases while scoring a whopping 37 runs.
“I think the foundation we have laid has been awesome,” said Fisher. “I started here in kindergarten, and I’ve come up through the program. To go out on a team like this my senior season is really pleasing. I hope we make another run in the state playoffs this year, and hopefully we can go a little further. But this has been very rewarding.”
Houseton said he’s proud of the way his team has bought into his coaching staff’s philosophies, adding that he’s especially encouraged that the program is on the upswing in only his third season at the helm.
“We don’t have a lot of (Division I)-type talented guys,” Houseton said. “These are just regular Joes who play well together, and they believe in what we’ve been teaching them. I was encouraged when we got down early (against Christ School), and instead of putting our heads down we just battled and got a good win.”
Henry said he was happy with the victory and the fact that the Lions kept alive their no-consecutive-losses streak, but he wasn’t sure they would’ve been able to win that game a season ago – or even earlier this season, for that matter.
“The biggest thing that we have improved upon is our mental game,” Henry said. “At the beginning of the year, we would get an out and make an error or something, and we would get down on ourselves. Now, we get an out and realize it is not an individual thing; it’s a team much more than it is one person. That has helped us so much, and guys have really stepped up. Even if the game isn’t going well, we stay positive. And that has really helped us.”
That positive attitude has helped the Lions as they’ve ventured down what could become the best season in school history.
Houseton, who starred at Charlotte Christian in the mid-1990s and later at North Alabama University before returning to Charlotte Christian as an assistant, said he sets his goals as high as he can and expects a lot out of his players. With the way they have responded, and the fact he’ll have many of the same players back next year, he might have to raise the expectations.
“Overall, I am really pleased,” Houseton said. “When I got here, (Charlotte Christian) coach (Greg) Simmons told me the biggest thing was the program was going to be my baby. It’s my third year here, and we didn’t have any tradition – certainly not a winning tradition – so I am very pleased so far.”
The Lions have moved into their brand-new digs at Warner Park this season, and Houseton is proud of the facility, calling it “one of the nicest fields in the Charlotte area.” The field, complete with increased equipment storage, a clubhouse, sunken dugouts and a brick façade behind home plate, has made all the players proud.
Houseton said he has a three-year plan and will install a sound system, improve the batting-cage facilities, install padding all around the stadium and continue to make other little improvements.
For now, though, their new stadium is perfect, and with the way the team has responded to Houseton and the talent on the roster, it’s easy to see the Lions are a program on the rise.
“The sky is the limit for us,” Vaughn said. “At the plate, we don’t always hit the ball as well as we could or should, and it is tough for us to put together a game where we are all hitting the ball well. But if we could do that one game and have an offensive explosion and get on track, then I feel like that could push us over the hump.”
If that happens, the Lions might be in line for a better finish than last year’s march to the state quarterfinals.
“Yeah, this year is huge for us,” Vaughn continued. “This could attract more people to the program with the new field and everything. We have been getting great fan support, and people are taking an interest in us. The work we have put in is definitely starting to pay off.”