North Surry’s Casey Wright has committed to play college baseball at Winston-Salem State, joining a Rams program that was just two wins away from reaching the Division II College World Series this season.
Wright is the third player from this year’s historic Greyhounds team who has announced plans to play ball at the next level. Senior catcher Nick Wilson committed to the University of Charleston (West Virginia) and senior outfielder Nolan Stanley will play for the Surry Community College Knights.
Wright said North Surry assistant baseball coach Daryll Johnson reached out to Rams hitting coach Rob Woodall, who came to see the senior first baseman play this season.
Soon after that, Wright visited the Winston-Salem State campus, which felt a lot like home.
“I’m just happy I get to go play, because not too many people get to go and to be part of a winning team because they were only two wins away from making it to the D-II World Series,” Wright said. “The coaches are really nice. They are a lot like me, and they are a lot like Daryll, with how they run [things]. It would be just like playing here.”
He plans to enroll in the school’s nursing program and eventually pursue a career as a nurse anesthetist. Wright noted Winston-Salem State has one of the top nursing programs in the state.
The Rams baseball program has quickly become a legitimate national contender. Winston-Salem State won its fifth straight CIAA title, posted a program-best 42-15 record and was a tough out in this year’s regionals. The Rams’ season ended with a couple of one-run losses to the top two seeds in the region.
Wright said he hopes he can make an impact right away, most likely in the outfield. The Rams already have a couple of Stokes County commitments — catcher Jamison Nagle (South Stokes) and pitcher Corbin Easter (West Stokes). Both played for a couple of seasons with the Surry Community College Knights.
North head baseball coach Coach Tony Martin is excited for Wright to get the chance to play college ball.
“He’s got the bat speed to hit the 85-90 mph pitching,” Martin said. “Obviously he’s got to continue to work and be disciplined at the plate. Getting up there and hitting a fastball is one thing, but you’ve got to learn the art of [hitting]. You’ve got to learn the strike zone, learn the timing of it. These opponents he’ll see will scout him, so he’ll have some adjustments to go through, like the speed of the game But if he continues to work and have that desire like he did this year, he’ll be fine.”
After playing sparingly as a junior, Wright turned a lot of heads with a breakout performance in 2015.
He provided plenty of offensive punch in the leadoff spot for the Hounds, who won the school’s first conference baseball title since 1989 and reached the 2A Western regional final. For the season, Wright posted a .402 batting average and was second on the team with eight home runs. He scored a team-high 28 runs and was second on the club with 32 RBIs.
Martin, in his first year at the helm at North, noticed Wright’s excellent bat speed and hand-eye coordination.
“He was a surprise for a lot of opponents that we played,” Martin said. “They’d keep saying ‘Where did this Casey come from?’”
Wright’s bat speed generated massive power, and he was also a threat on the basepaths. In addition to his eight dingers, Wright led the team with eight doubles and tripled twice. He scored a run on a wild pitch to help North beat East Davidson 5-4 in a second-round state playoff game this year.
“He’s got good pop in his bat. You couldn’t ask for a better leadoff hitter,” Martin said. “He just worked. Hopefully we can find somebody else to replace him in that spot.”
After going 8-14 and finishing near the bottom of the conference, the Hounds put together a dream 26-4 season and became the first North baseball team to reach the Final Four.
Wright said there was a noticeable change in the baseball atmosphere this year at North.
“Last year I didn’t hardly play at all. This year I played every game,” Wright said. “Last year, if we’d get down one run, you might as well count on us losing. But this year, we fought, had to come back for big wins, and actually won.”
North had home-field advantage throughout the west playoffs and hosted the largest crowds to ever see a Hounds baseball contest in Games 1 and 3 of the regional finals series against Randleman.
It was a memorable experience not lost on Wright.
“Being able to be a part of history here, being the farthest to make it is really special to me,” he said.
Wright played football until this season — focusing his attention on baseball and basketball. The Hounds were conference champs on the hardwood over the winter on the way to a 21-win season.
Like many ballplayers, Wright has fond memories of playing T-ball at a young age.
“It was so funny, when I first played, they had a video of me and I was in the outfield and I was sitting there pulling on my chewing gum,” he said. “They hit a ball, it went right by, and I just stood there and watched it.”
In the years since then, Wright has grown to love the sport of baseball.
Now he has the chance to live a childhood dream at one of the nation’s up-and-coming D-II baseball schools. Since the program’s turnaround under head coach Kevin Ritsche in 2010, the Rams have won 30 or more wins every season and 35 or more victories in four of the last five seasons.
“I’ve always dreamed about it, watching the College World Series and everything when I was younger,” Wright said. “I was like, ‘Man, I want to be like one of those big boys playing.’”