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Play to win

Published 11:22am Sunday, June 1, 2014

LASKER – It’s been eight years since NC Wesleyan went to the NCAA Division-III College World Series and nine years since they’ve won it all.

Zach Byers hopes the next time the Battlin’ Bishops get there won’t take as long.

And he’s going to do his best to help.

Former Northeast Academy pitcher/infielder Zach Byers (front row, center) has committed to NC Wesleyan College where he will play baseball beginning next season.  Present for the scholarship letter signing are (front row, from left) Tim Byers, father; Zach; and Shannon Byers, mother; and (back row, from left) Russell Leake, NEA Headmaster; Brittany Byers, sister; and Billy Bridgers, NEA coach. Staff Photo by Gene Motley
Former Northeast Academy pitcher/infielder Zach Byers (front row, center) has committed to NC Wesleyan College where he will play baseball beginning next season. Present for the scholarship letter signing are (front row, from left) Tim Byers, father; Zach; and Shannon Byers, mother; and (back row, from left) Russell Leake, NEA Headmaster; Brittany Byers, sister; and Billy Bridgers, NEA coach. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

Byers, a former standout pitcher and infielder for Northeast Academy signed an academic scholarship letter Wednesday to attend the Rocky Mount school beginning this fall.

Next spring, he hopes he’ll be on the diamond.

Schools from as far away as South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama sought Byers’ services; but in the end he opted to stay – and play – close to home.

“They made me good offers but I just liked North Carolina Wesleyan,” he said after the signing.  “I like the campus there and I wanted to play for Coach Long.”

Veteran coach Charlie Long has been with Wesleyan baseball for 24 years, the last 18 of them as head coach.

“I think it’ll be great to focus on one sport,” Byers continued. “Especially learning from coach Long and his coaching staff and we start out on the very first day.”

Byers says he hopes to major in Criminal Justice.

When he was a seventh and eighth grade student at Northeast Byers went to baseball camps at UNC-Chapel Hill and at N.C. State.  He says that laid the foundation for his desire to play at the collegiate level.

“Then for my junior year I went to the Baseball Factory camp and saw videos,” Byers said. “That really helped me out.”

Byers expects to see time at second base for the Battling Bishops, possibly more so than on the pitcher’s mound. NEA baseball coach Billy Bridgers said Byers knows where his game needs to get stronger.

“He’ll be alright,” Bridgers said. “He needs to work on his arm strength, but he also has the desire and he has the heart.”

Byers’ dad, Tim, has been his coach since his son’s childhood and says he’s ready now to see someone else pick up with the instruction.

“That’s what I’ve been looking forward too, letting somebody else coach him,” the elder Byers remarked. “I never made it to the college level, so I’m tickled to death for him.”

Unlike some fathers, Tim says he can see the strengths and the weaknesses in Zach’s game.

“What he really improved on this year is his confidence level,” Tim stated. “In order to be at the next level you have to believe you deserve that opportunity. You’ve got to have the quick feet and get on your game every day with the basic fundamentals.”

To aid in his development over the summer Zach will be playing American Legion baseball for Ahoskie’s Post 102.

Something else one sees in Byers is the attitude of a winner.  Something he knows he’ll need in a tradition-rich program like Wesleyan.

“That’s another good thing,” he stressed. “I’ve always liked to win, so I’m hoping I can help them get to that next World Series.  The camaraderie of the teammates and my coaches will be good and I want to learn from them.”

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