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Hawks Nest: Lawson Making Most of Moment

  • The Upper Valley's Brody Lawson has an ice pack wrapped around his arm by Nighthawks athletic trainer Karissa McCoy, or Rutland, Vt., on Thursday, June 21, 2018, at the Maxfield Sports Complex, in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Upper Valley's Brody Lawson talks with teammate Levi Thomas before a Nighthawks game on Thursday, June 21, 2018, at the Maxfield Sports Complex, in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, June 23, 2018

White River Junction — Brody Lawson wanted to focus on finding his game again with the Upper Valley Nighthawks.

The right-handed pitcher redshirted his freshman season at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, watching from the dugout and waiting for a chance to finally see live hitting. Bullpen sessions and fall ball scratched that itch only somewhat. His stint with the Nighthawks was his opportunity to get back at it.

What he didn’t expect was his world turning upside down.

Two weeks ago, UNCW pitching coach Matt Williams was relieved of his duties following a months-long scandal involving a motivational speaker named Brian Cain and an explicit presentation to the team’s pitching staff in 2017 that led the school to let Williams go.

Lawson cited Williams as a mentor, saying he joined the program because of Williams and his baseball acumen. Losing your coach while away playing summer ball, he said, was less than ideal.

Lawson has done his best staying focused.

“He meant a lot,” Lawson said of Williams before Wednesday’s game against the Valley Blue Sox at the Maxfield Sports Complex. “He was the first coach from UNCW who came and watched me. We kind of had a bond, in that sort of way. … Him leaving, I hate it. I hope everything works out for him. We’re really going to miss him.”

The Kernersville, N.C., native has made a name for himself on an Upper Valley pitching staff that has been dominant in the first three weeks of the New England Collegiate Baseball League season. The Nighthawks allowed a league-low 44 runs and 41 walks through their first 13 games and hold the league’s second-best team ERA at 3.12.

Lawson has done his part. He is 2-0 with 12 strikeouts in three appearances, two of them starts, and 11 innings pitched, allowing seven hits and two runs with a 1.63 ERA. On Tuesday, Lawson struck out five in the Nighthawks’ 4-1 win over the Mystic Schooners in his second start of the summer.

“For the most part, you expect a guy to shake off the rust from a considerable break in the spring season,” said Upper Valley pitching coach Tom Hudon. “It’s good that (Lawson) can get back in here and be as polished as he is. It’s really big praise to his preparation. That’s why he’s at this level.”

Lawson graduated from High Point Christian Academy in High Point, N.C., in 2017 as an all-state and all-conference selection his final two years. He finished his senior season with an 0.38 ERA and his prep career with an 0.63 ERA.

“It was tough (redshirting at UNCW) because I saw freshmen got opportunities. I thought I could have gotten opportunities,” Lawson said. “Sitting out, I got bigger and stronger. I threw harder. It helped me learn. The game sped up a lot.

“Being in control of the game,” he added, “there’s no better feeling of getting into a jam and then getting out of it with a big strikeout or a big groundout.”

Williams helped recruit Lawson to UNCW, which has become a powerhouse in the Colonial Athletic Conference. The Seahawks went 39-23 and won the CAA tournament title this spring, making the postseason for the first time since 2016. UNCW’s pitching staff finished the campaign with a 3.50 ERA collectively, the lowest since 2001. According to the Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News, four pitchers from the UNCW staff were athletes Williams recruited and mentored.

News of Williams’ departure caused an uproar online from current and former UNCW players. It was tough to ignore, Lawson said, a disappointing outcome to a drawn-out saga that he and his teammates believed was over and done with.

“He knew the game really well,” Lawson said. “He knew how to pitch to different hitters. Him with a chart in the dugout, he would point out where their weakness was and all this. He would do it in such a clear way that it was easy to pick up on.”

For now, Lawson is trying to control what he can control, a game that he believes still needs to be polished. Hudon has liked what he’s seen thus far.

“In theory, we wanted to ease him into his first start against New Bedford (a 7-1 win on June 12),” Hudon said. “In his first appearance, he was extremely poised. He was in control of his motion and his body, which was the biggest thing. He’s a big kid with big, long limbs. … He’s extremely aggressive.”

As the season goes on, longer outings will be required for some of Upper Valley’s better pitchers. Lawson is excited about the opportunity to make his case for a spot near the top of any starting rotation.

“I’m still getting back into it,” he said. “Hopefully, later into the season, I can go a little bit deeper into games. Before I got out there, I spent a few games watching the defense. The defense is really good. I knew I could trust my pitches, honestly.

“It feels amazing (to get back on the mound).”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.