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'Old School': Forward approach led to success for Nash Central's Whitley

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Nash Central's Trey Whitley is the 2018 Telegram All-Area Baseball Pitcher of the Year.

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Nash Central’s Trey Whitley had a few marquee moments this season — a junior year campaign that helped the Bulldogs win a conference title for the first time in school history.

There was the time he came within four outs of a perfect game in the opening round of the NCHSAA 2-A state tournament.

“I was kind of upset for a few nights,” he said. “I was that close.”

There was the time he one-hit North Pitt and collected 12 strikeouts in a head-to-head conference game against the other team’s ace. The one hit came in the first inning, and was partially because of a misjudge from an outfielder.

“It was really an error,” Nash Central coach Willie Langley said. “A dropped fly ball.”

Then there was the time, against North Johnston, that he squared off — and beat — Trey Whitley. The other Trey Whitley.

“It was crazy,” said the Nash Central ace, who won eight games with a 2.73 ERA in 56 ⅓ innings, en route to being named the Telegram’s 2017-18 All-Area Pitcher of the Year. “I believe it was my ninth grade year when I learned about the other Trey. I was playing varsity. We went to the game and they called him out. It was like, why the heck did they just call me out?”

Indeed, North Johnston had a Trey Whitley of its own, identical in name down to the spelling, and this one was no slouch either — he got drafted this past June in the 28th round by the Baltimore Orioles.

But in this game, played on the road on April 24, the two went against each other on the rubber and it was Nash Central’s Trey who left with bragging rights, going the distance for the victory in a 7-5 ballgame. He also knocked in the two runs in the top of the seventh that proved the difference.

On the road, at home, in the team’s new conference, in the playoffs, or in the early and cold part of the regular season, it was that type of season for the Bulldogs’ No. 1 pitcher. He matched up with each team’s ace. Most times he won the duel.

“Trey’s just old school. He’s a country boy. He’s going to stand up on the mound. He’s going to throw his fastball in there. He’s not going to nibble. He’s going to say, ‘Here it is. Hit it.’ Some can, some can’t,” Langley said. “He gets a lot of strikeouts. He challenges hitters. Most pitchers now in the travel ball era, they nibble. They’ll throw an offspeed pitch in the dirt. Not Trey. He just challenges hitters.”

The fastball is, by Whitley’s own estimation, his best pitch, and he throws it about 70 percent of the time. Many of those led to his 65 strikeouts.

But another part of what makes him so tough to hit at the high school level, Langley said, is his ability to self-correct on the mound and between innings.

In that way, he’s old school, too. He’s a student of baseball, who just so happens to be able to locate a fastball wherever he wants it.

(“He’s able to put the ball in a can. I could hold a peanut butter jar up there and he’d hit the target,” said senior catcher Chase Minshew.)

For all those reasons, he is, to put it lightly, very coachable.

“I’ll go out there and he’ll say, ‘I shouldn’t have thrown that pitch 0-2.’ He knows,” Langley said. “I never have to say anything to him. I never have to change a pitch. He remembers what he did to get a guy out.”

Whitley has carried himself as a pitcher ever since he graduated from machine pitching as a six-year-old. He used to play football, but quit before his freshman year of high school because he didn’t want to mess up his chance of playing baseball in college.

He raised eyebrows as a freshman for the Bulldogs, when he and his pitching counterpart Hunter Robinson combined to beat powerhouse Eastern Wayne on the road. He was thrown to the wolves as a sophomore, said Langley, starting against some of the best teams in the state, seeming to always keep Nash Central in the game.

But this season is when it came together for an entire year, with Whitley eating up productive innings for a team that went 10-0 in conference in its first year in the Eastern Plains Conference.

Both Whitley and Robinson just finished up their junior seasons, so they’ll be back for a team with high hopes in 2019.

That’s on Whitley’s mind, but so is playing beyond high school. He’s had his eyes set on college baseball since he was a kid. He just wants to keep playing, he said, wherever it may be.

In his eyes, the longer he plays baseball, the longer he can keep the small but feisty thought that occupies a small part of his mind alive.

“You always have that one thought in the back of your mind. You’re like, ‘Play college ball at a big school, even a smaller school, and you can keep that thought in the back of your head,’” Whitley said. “It hassles you, because you know you want to go play in the major leagues. Could that ever happen? I’ve never let it slip too far back in my mind.”

Best of the rest

Hunter Robinson, Jr., Nash Central — The other end of the one-two pitching punch for the Bulldogs, Robinson started 10 games, finishing with seven wins and a 3.74 ERA. 

Evan Hart, Fr., Rocky Mount High — This season seemed like only the beginning for Hart, who, as a freshman, pitched in the Gryphons’ biggest games and won five games with a 2.43 ERA. 

Leroy Edwards, Sr., Southern Nash — The senior was part of a successful season for the Firebirds, who went on a winning streak toward the end of the season to clinch a playoff berth. He finished with a 2.33 ERA. 

Ethan Davis, Jr., Rocky Mount Academy — Davis pitched 24 2/3 innings for the Eagles, allowing only five earned runs for a 1.42 ERA. 

Alexander Ortiz, Jr., SouthWest Edgecombe — Ortiz logged a team-leading 36 1/3 innings on the mound, registering a 2.31 ERA for the Cougars. 

Zach Warrick, Jr., Faith Christian — Warrick led the state champions in both wins (7) and appearances (15). 

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