Science Hill’s battery generated a couple of Division I baseball players on Wednesday.
Pitcher Daniel Sweeney and catcher Matthew Beaird announced their respective decisions to play at East Tennessee State and Coastal Carolina.
Sweeney, a 6-foot-5, 180-pound right-hander, went 6-2 with a 3.88 ERA in 38 2/3 innings last season. He struck out 30 and walked 13.
The best is likely yet to come from Sweeney, whose long frame and annual increases in velocity resemble the ascent of former ETSU signees Chas Byrne and Will Carter. Sweeney said he has gone from an average of perhaps 78 mph in eighth grade to topping out at 88 mph this past summer, and it’s not a stretch to project him in the low 90s.
“My length and just being a wiry pitcher is something that you can really develop,” Sweeney said.
Science Hill coach Ryan Edwards said Sweeney’s also made steady improvement with his changeup, and that concentrating on one sport will help his potential be realized at the next level, too.
“It’s hard because he comes out of basketball,” Edwards said. “Will Carter, Reed Hayes and him have always been – I don’t ever get their best until late in the year because of basketball. It’s just hard to really get their throwing in.
“But as long as we’ve got him going strong by midseason – and that’s one thing about Daniel, he picks up a lot of velocity as the year goes along.”
Edwards likes Sweeney’s competitiveness. He said Sweeney was “thrown into the fire” as a sophomore and responded with quality outings such as one that allowed Science Hill to beat a Jefferson County team “that won 30-plus games.” Sweeney’s favorite victory was when he beat Dobyns-Bennett in relief last season.
He is excited about ETSU, where coach Tony Skole has a new facility and the reigning Atlantic Sun Conference champions. Sweeney watched the Buccaneers on TV when they played at Vanderbilt in the NCAA Regional.
“That was exciting to watch – just the atmosphere and the game,” Sweeney said. “ETSU was really the only school I was considering. So it was a quick, easy process for me. … I really like the direction the program’s headed – moving to the Southern (Conference). And I mean, there’s a lot of community backing going for the school right now.”
Beaird also considered ETSU before opting for Coastal Carolina.
“I thought about it for a couple of months,” Beaird said. “I mean, I really had to think about it, just weigh all the pros and cons, but it came to me finally.”
While being 10 minutes from Myrtle Beach is nice, he said getting far enough from home to become more independent was more of a factor. So was the fact that 18-year veteran coach Gary Gilmore has gone to 12 NCAA regional tournaments and two Super Regionals.
Beaird’s skills behind the plate are coveted, and Edwards said the left-handed batting Beaird is likely to have a breakout season at the plate. He hit .261 with two doubles and 14 RBIs last season.
“Matthew … is a no-brainer Division I catcher,” Edwards said. “He can run really well, his arm strength and just his receiving abilities – blocking and receiving. He went to a Coastal Carolina camp toward the end of the summer, and they really liked him and followed up with him. …
“He’s really a diamond in the rough, so to speak. … He’s just one of those guys with a lot of tools that I think’s gonna really develop. He’s kind of a late developer, because he’s kind of a skinny frame that’s starting to fill out.”
Edwards said Beaird can throw in the mid-80s and could end up pitching a lot and playing some shortstop for the Hilltoppers.
“I mean, I don’t know that I’ve ever had too many guys that could literally play all nine positions like he can,” Edwards said.
Sweeney and Beaird both appeared excited but relieved to have their college selection behind them. Beaird thought about former players such as Will Craig (Wake Forest) and Hayes (Walters State) at their signing ceremonies last year, and described Wednesday as a “wow” moment.
“It’s really cool,” Beaird said. “It (college baseball) is something I’ve always dreamed about.”