With an 11-1 overall record and 6-1 mark in Region 5A, the Knights are on track to achieving their first winning season since 2006 — when they went 15-10-1 — and their first state playoff berth since ’05, when they posted a 19-8 record and advanced to the second round of the Class AA playoffs.
Pace is on the upswing with a veteran lineup that features three NCAA Division I signees — pitcher/shortstop Jared Datoc (Georgia Tech), pitcher/first baseman Kameron Uter (Wake Forest) and center fielder Raphael Ramirez (N.C. State).
“The program has been in a building mode for the last four to five years,” Pace coach Matt Hall said. “We are at that point where we feel really good about the numbers in the program and we’re really led this year by our senior leadership. We got three guys who are committed to play Division I baseball and they are setting the pace for our guys. As a result, some of our younger kids who are a year or two into the program have picked it up and played at a higher level.”
Pace has also benefited this season by simply staying healthy after struggling with injuries during last year’s 8-16 campaign.
“Our No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers were hurt for the majority of the season [last year],” Hall said. “We had two seniors and the rest were pretty much freshmen and sophomores. These guys have really matured over the last year with our one and two [pitchers] healthy this year and a strong staff of juniors behind them, and that’s been a difference between this year and last.”
Leading Pace’s formidable pitching staff is Datoc, who was 3-0 with a 1.60 earned run average going into the Knights’ game with Fellowship Christian last Wednesday, and Uter (4-1, 1.90 ERA), who was also a standout on the school’s football team and earned a scholarship for that sport as well as baseball.
Datoc and Uter anchor a rotation that has an ERA of just under 2.00.
“Those two guys have been carrying us in terms of their big arms,” Hall said. “We’ve done a really good job in terms of pitching and defense.”
Senior right fielder/first baseman Will Rucker led the team in both batting average (.458) and runs batted in (10) as of last Wednesday, while Uter (.390), junior left fielder Dylan Steinfeld (.385), Ramirez (.370 with a team-leading 11 runs scored and eight stolen bases), junior catcher Chase Uter (.343) – Kameron Uter’s brother and a transfer from Westlake – and Datoc (.310) are the other top hitters.
Pace is currently in a heated Region 5A race as it battles defending Class A champion Eagle’s Landing Christian and Paideia for first place.
The Knights will have games against both teams in the last week of the regular season, playing at Paideia Wednesday and at ELCA next Tuesday.
“Our last four games are going to determine that region,” Hall said. “ELCA is obviously a strong team and they have some special players down there and we have to have some real competitive games with them at the end of the season.”