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Knights’ Stephens ready to start all over at USC-Sumter

Posted: May 25, 2017 9:00 a.m.
Updated: May 26, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

NORTH CENTRAL’S CHASE STEPHENS signed a National Letter of Intent to continue his academic and baseball-playing endeavors at USC-Sumter while flanked by, from left, his stepmother, Rhonda Stephens, his father, Ben Stephens, and his mother, Linda Dabney. Standing, from left, are NC principal David Branham, former Kershaw County American Legion head coach Craig Smith, Stephens’ stepbrother, Jack Dabney, NC head baseball coach Robbie Cash, Stephens’ sister, Kensey Stephens, and NC athletic director Louis Clyburn.

Chase Stephens is the type of baseball player who checks plenty of the boxes which coaches will sometimes fill with question marks.

In need of a pitcher who is not afraid to take the ball for big games and give you quality innings? He is your guy. Looking for a hard-nosed leader behind the plate to help a pitcher along? Stephens can do that, too. Handle the bat at the plate or a glove in the infield and get you results? Look no further.

Those were the roles which he played at North Central. Once he gets to USC-Sumter, the multi-skilled Stephens will be allowed to step back, catch his breath and focus on being a pitcher for Tim Medlin’s squad.

Stephens brought his recruitment to an end when he signed a National Letter of Intent to continue his academic and baseball-playing pursuits with USC-Sumter in an afternoon ceremony held inside The Castle in Boonetown.

“I just felt like it was a good match,” Stephens said of his decision. “Coach Medlin has been around the game a long time and I felt that USC-Sumter was the best choice for me with their academics and athletics.”

Stephens was looked at by and visited several other programs and schools before deciding to cast his lot with the Fire Ants, a National Junior College Division II program.

USC-Sumter has sent pitcher Colie Bowers from its field to Founders Park in Columbia where Bowers pitches for the Gamecocks. Another USC-Sumter alum, former Post 17 head coach Curtis Johnson, followed a similar path. That is what Stephens hopes Medlin can do for his baseball aspirations.

“I would like to transfer somewhere bigger by my junior year,” he said of his medium-range goals.

Robbie Cash, who completed his eighth season in the dugout in Boonetown by being selected as the Region 4-AA coach of the year, said his all-conference performer could not have made a better choice in a school, program and coach.

“They have a good program over there in Sumter with Coach Medlin,” he said. “I’ve known Coach Medlin for a long time, since my playing days, actually, when I was playing at Wofford and he was coaching at Newberry.

“I know Chase is going to a good program and I’m happy for him.”

In 2015, the Fire Ants won the district title and traveled to Grand Junction, Colo., for the Juco World Series. That impressed Stephens.

“What really hit me was back in 2015, they went to the Juco World Series,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow. It’s close to home and it seems like they have a good program there.’”

Stephens is coming off his best high school season and played a key role in the Knights’ finishing third in Region 4-AA and making a return trip to the AA state playoffs before being knocked out in the third round of district tourney play by Ninety-Six.

In his senior campaign, Stephens batted at a .300 clip with 27 hits in 90 at-bats. He had a pair of doubles, triple and a home run while driving in 10 runs and scoring 16.

On the mound, the right-hander was NC’s big-game pitcher. He finished with a 4-3 record with one save. He struck out 36 batters in 48.2 innings of work, all of which were tops for the 2017 Knights. In the field, he committed just one error and sported a .982 fielding mark.

Medlin started recruiting Stephens after having come to Boonetown to see him throw over the winter. “He came to watch me pitch in early February and he said that he’d get back in touch with me and we’ve been talking ever since,” Stephens said of the recruiting process.

By being versatile, Stephens said he hopes it will lead him to getting early playing time. As to where that will be, it is anyone’s guess and, for his part, Stephens is not being picky as to where he would like to play.

“We’ll just have to see when we get there. I’ll do anything for the team, that’s the way I feel,” he said. “Just any way that I can find my way onto the field.”

Cash said before Stephens can get meaningful playing time, his former player will have to learn the ropes like all freshmen. He also has to get used to an entirely new way of doing things at the next level.

“It’s going to be a huge shock,” said Cash, a former Wofford pitcher on the adjustment to college life and baseball. “Chase is going to get to campus, get his books and the next thing you know, it’s off to practice and Coach Medlin is going to be going at 90 miles an hour the first day you’re out there. They’re going to be out there full-bore the first day whereas in high school, you usually ease into it. On day one, he’s going to be facing a guy on the hill who is going to be throwing 86 (miles an hour) at him and then, be catching that same guy.

“Chase is going to pay his dues in his first year as a catcher and a bullpen pitcher, probably. He’ll probably be a role player starting off. He’ll get on the field but he’ll have to bide his time. By his second year, Chase should be able to start on the hill or behind the plate.”

In order to make a smooth transition to the college game, Stephens, who ran for the NC cross country team in the fall, said he needs to get into the weight room. “I just have to get bigger, faster and stronger,” he said of the changes coming his way at USC-Sumter. “There’s more competitiveness. It’s going to be harder and a faster-paced game. It’s going to be a big change for me.”

Cash said what Stephens needs is more practice time. Having more time on the practice field to work on all aspects of his game will be a boon to the former NC standout who is playing American Legion baseball for Kershaw County Post 17 this summer.

“Chase is fine athletic-wise. He ran cross country. He has to get in the weight room and get stronger but at the same time, he just needs more reps,” Cash said. “Chase has been a player who, though the years, the more reps he has gotten the better he has become.

“His fundamentals are outstanding. He just needs more pickoff reps. He needs more throws down to second base. He needs more hit and run at-bats. He needs a lot of different things to get better as a player.”

Stephens said he will do whatever it takes to be a success on and off the diamond. His signing is something he thought about for more than a dozen years.

“It’s always been a dream,” he said of signing to play the sport he loved in college. “Ever since I was young, from the age of five ... and I’ve been in love with (baseball) since.”

 “My sophomore year, I felt that after I started lifting weights and everything started to become real that I thought that this might be able to happen.”

Cash said Chase Stephens has all the tools to be a factor on the field at USC-Sumter and to go on to bigger and better things after college.

 “Chase is one of those guys who you just hate to see leave,” he said. “He’s been with this program since he was an eighth-grader. I knew that kid would be something special just because of his mannerisms; he was always a ‘Yes, Sir.’ “No, sir,’ guy.

“He always came to practice and worked hard. He was the first one there and the last one to leave. He’s just a real quality and very special young man.”

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