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Coming into the 2018 varsity baseball season Fike High teammates Justice Lynn and Chad Bean had vastly different outlooks.
Lynn, the Golden Demons senior center fielder, was ready to make a splash in his final prep season while Bean, a sophomore pitcher, was merely hoping to make a contribution.
In the end, both Lynn and Bean achieved both of those goals as they helped Fike win the 3-A Big East Conference championship and reach the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs, where the Demons finished with a 21-5 record after losing 3-2 at Chapel Hill.
The efforts of Lynn and Bean were rewarded with inclusion on the North Carolina Baseball Coaches Association All-State Team, announced Tuesday. The Demons duo was among the 32 players chosen for the 3-A all-state team and the only two from The Wilson Times readership area to be so honored out of the 125 players in all four classifications to achieve the all-state distinction. Earning the player-of-the-year honors from their respective classifications were Kain Kiser of 1-A East Surry, Logan Whitaker of 2-A Thomasville Ledford, Owen White of 3-A China Grove Carson and Ben Miller of 4-A Durham Jordan.
“I don’t know what to think about it at all. I mean, I wasn’t really expecting it,” said Bean of his all-state accolade.
Bean, who was the 3-A Big East Conference Pitcher of the Year, emerged as the Demons’ top pitcher, going 9-1 in 15 appearances (56 2/3 innings) with an 0.86 ERA. Bean, who also had three saves, held opposing batters to a .186 average while striking out 56 and walking 24.
“It didn’t matter if he was starting or relieving, he just came in with a certain calmness and just got guys out,” said Fike head coach Buck Edmundson.
Not bad for a guy who looked like he would be Fike’s No. 3 hurler back when practice began in February. But senior Jaelynn Melton suffered an injury that prevented him from pitching and fellow senior Trevor Mills, while continuing as Fike’s No. 1 starter, didn’t produce the numbers that Bean did.
“Coming into the season, I was hoping I could get some appearances and just kind of help the team out wherever I could, but I wasn’t ever expecting to turn into one of the top pitchers on the team or get any of these different honors I’ve gotten this season,” Bean said.
And the lanky 6-foot, 140-pound right-hander did it without the benefit of a blazing fastball, instead relying more on movement, location and sheer moxie.
“I’m more of a finesse pitcher,” Bean said. “I’ve got a lot of movement on my pitches and when you have a lot of movement, you don’t have to throw as hard.”
Lynn assured that Bean’s pitches had movement.
“The way his ball moves is a sight to see!” Lynn marveled, before adding: “When that man gets stronger as a junior and senior, I’m telling you, he’s going to hit 90 (miles per hour).”
Edmundson pointed out, “He had so much movement on his fastball that he stayed ahead in counts a lot and then he was able to utilize his off-speed stuff more.”
For Bean, it was a matter of keeping up with opposing hitters.
“If I’m coming in in relief, I just look to see if people are looking silly on the curveball or if they’re laying off the curveball,” he said. “I try to see what pitch they’re not good at hitting. … Some people are bad about chasing curveballs in the dirt and some people are bad about hitting fastballs that are up and in or swinging at high pitches, so I just kind of keep a mental note about who swings at what pitches.”
Bean was also good at working out of jams, both ones that he inherited as a reliever or created himself. He credited that with a mental approach based on just simply not worrying too much.
“You’ve got to think about it like there are things worse than losing a baseball game,” he said.
Bean credited junior catcher Garrett Browder along with his other teammates’ defensive ability for his success on the mound this spring.
“I don’t think that me and Trevor would have been as successful without having Garrett behind the plate and just having a good defense behind you gives you comfort on the mound, I guess is a good way to put it,” Bean said.
Similar to Bean, Lynn was somewhat of a face in the crowd in Fike’s lineup heading into the season. While Mills (who played at Southern Nash), Melton and sophomore Hunter Stokely were returning all-conference selections and junior first baseman Zach Pittman earned All-Big East honorable mention, Lynn toiled in relative obscurity on the 2017 Fike team that included all-state pitcher/shortstop Dwight Daniels.
“I knew I needed to do something this year because — I didn’t have bad numbers last year but I knew I had to step it up and play harder and make some type of noise,” Lynn said.
Make some noise he did as the flyhawk led Fike with a .507 batting average (33 for 76) that included six doubles, three triples and 20 RBIs. Lynn, who posted an on-base percentage of .533, also stole 14 bases and scored 21 runs.
“He had a heck of a year,” marveled Edmundson. “I don’t think anybody — me, his teammates or anybody — expected him to have the year he had!”
Lynn also found a role as one of the Demons’ top clutch hitters despite missing Fike’s first four games with a cracked bone in his wrist. But in his first at-bat of the season, Lynn tripled.
“Justice is the definition of guts,” Edmundson said. “He leaves it all out every time. He’s going to give you everything he has every day.”
His transformation from role player to star came from a renewed commitment, he said.
“Mentally, I wasn’t the most devoted,” Lynn admitted. “I got better, smarter, stronger. I decided to work on my game more than I did ever before.”
Edmundson pointed out that Lynn, who only weighed about 125 pounds as a junior, worked hard to pack 25 pounds on his 5-7 frame by the time his senior season rolled around.
Bean concurred that his all-state teammate earned his success this spring.
“He’s a really good player and a really good hitter and I don’t think people realize how hard he works behind the scenes, in the weight room and stuff,” Bean said.
Lynn proclaimed the 2018 Demons the closest team on which he’d ever played and even the playoff loss to Chapel Hill didn’t diminish their special season.
“Honestly, that was as close as I’ve ever been with a team,” he said. “It was like a family, a brotherhood. Of course, we wanted to win that game and move on in the playoffs but we were glad we had the opportunity to play all those games together.”