ICARD — Steve Peeler was starting to rebuild the East Burke High baseball field last spring and summer.
This spring, he’ll try to rebuild the Cavaliers program.
Peeler was hired as EB head coach over the summer and started offseason work with the players in September, he said. Among his new challenges is to get the Cavs to the playoffs for the first time ever at the 2A classification. EB last reached the postseason in 2008, which was also the last time the team finished a season above .500, both overall and in conference play.
EB bottomed out at 1-21 overall last year (0-12 in Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference) after their best season of the last decade in 2018, when they finished 11-13 overall and in a tie for fourth place in the conference, losing a tiebreaker for a playoff spot.
“I think it’s been a little different than what they’re used to,” said Peeler. “We’ve put them through some Army drills and they’ve taken right to it. … You could tell they got down on themselves last year. There’s some talent there, but I don’t think it’s been pushed to the limit it should be. We’re working out hard and positively reinforcing to give 110 percent all the time.”
Peeler replaces Brian Branch, who coached two seasons. He was EB’s fifth coach of the last decade and third straight that stayed two years or less.
“I’m in it for the long haul,” Peeler said, adding a goal of his is to mesh the EB Middle program with what the Cavs will be doing. He said the Raiders’ coaches have been “really open to that.”
Peeler is a 1986 Freedom High graduate and played for Burke County Post 21. He went on to Major League Baseball groundskeeping career. He helped work four All-Star games and also worked renovation projects at several NFL and NCAA football fields.
Peeler then opened Five Tool Baseball/Softball Academy, located between Morganton and Drexel, in 2015. He was an assistant coach at Freedom for three years from 2016-18 and has also coached FHS’ summer team as well as youth travel ball with his club, the Venom. Last summer, he coached the Post 21 junior baseball team, which he plans to re-up this summer.
“We want to build this right at East Burke, and we know that’ll take time,” he said. “But we’re excited about it. We have two players who have played for me in the past as juniors here this year. I think we only lose two seniors after this season.
“Last year, they had to pull up a lot of young players (to varsity), and it was good for them to be there for that experience. I think we could have some freshmen on varsity again this year, so we’re very, very young and have three, four years to build chemistry with this group.”
Peeler isn’t backing off the schedule though to nurse young players along. He says he believes they’ll only grow if they compete against the best.
“We have scheduled a very tough nonconference including South Caldwell and McDowell. My philosophy is you don’t get better playing someone worse than you,” Peeler said.
Paul Schenkel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-432-8950.