A news conference was held Tuesday in the Midway High School auditorium for new Raiders baseball coach Justin Carroll.
After a year of assisting in football and baseball at South Johnston, Carroll fills a void created by the departure of Jason Fussell to Hobbton.
Cory Barnes guided Midway in baseball as interim coach for the 2020 season, which ended in mid-March due to efforts to limit the coronavirus.
Carroll played football and baseball at West Johnston. He began his college baseball career at UNC Wilmington before transferring to Mount Olive.
The 2020 Raiders were 2-1 when the season was halted. Cameron Barefoot has signed with Campbell. Eli Culbreth and Cal Tyndall are bound for Gardner-Webb.
“I feel sorry for all the seniors this year,” Carroll said. “Unfortunately, they could not complete their season. My heart goes out to them. … I could not imagine the circumstances that fell upon them. We’re looking forward to next year and I’m looking forward to meeting the guys on the team.”
Carroll hit .325 as a senior at UMO with 17 home runs and 44 RBIs.
“The coaching staff at Mount Olive has helped me tremendously,” Carroll said. “I still keep in touch with them. They know their baseball. They know how to run a program. Every step of the way, I was trying to learn as much as I could.
“I knew this day eventually would come so just from soaking in all the knowledge … and being part of such a great program there has helped me moreso than anything and also the folks at South Johnston, the football and baseball program. They did things the right way, a successful athletic program over there with quality coaches that care about the kids first and then wins come second after being a great person.
“I think that’s where it all starts is being a great person, a great student and a great citizen before being a great ball player.”
Carroll coached linebackers and did some special teams work in football at South. He will help on Barnes’ gridiron staff at Midway.
Carroll worked with hitters and called pitches for the junior varsity in baseball at South.
Midway has won state championships in baseball in 1981 and 2014. Carroll is familiar with the program’s tradition.
Midway and South scrimmaged in baseball last season so Carroll got a look at the Raiders’ personnel.
Carroll talked about his baseball philosophy.
“I’m an offensive-minded guy,” he said. “I really like to be wide open offensively, attacking pitchers. Driving the ball in both gaps. … I love home runs just as much as anybody. I also love when a guy moves a runner from second base to third base to set up an RBI situation. I like to run the bases very aggressively. I think that we will look to establish a style of play where it gives players a lot of freedom into the decisions they make on the field whether that be running, hitting, bunting.
“Defensive-wise, I don’t believe in doing too many crazy things. I don’t believe in too many moving parts defensively. Making the routine plays. Fielding a bunt. Getting an out and not doing too much to hurt yourself defensively. Pitchers attack the strike zone, limit the walks.
“Everyone says baseball has changed a lot, but I really don’t think it’s changed too much. Limit the walks, limit the errors and swing the bats pretty well and you’ll have a pretty good chance of winning the ball game.”
Carroll said his family had been among his developmental influences as well as the staff at Mount Olive, including former Trojans coach Carl Lancaster. Carroll grew up in McGee’s Crossroads. His family includes Kim (mother), Steve (dad), Adam Creech (brother) and Kelli (sister).
“My older brother, just out in the yard, I’m very grateful that he never let me win, back when we would play together and some of his friends,” Carroll said. “My high school coach, Mike Jacobs, he was a tremendous influence on me. He was not only a great coach, but a great person. He really helped me out and kind of showed me the way, so to speak. … Paul Sherrill, one of my best friend’s dad, has been like a second father for me. …
“All of those folks are big on work ethic and that’s one thing I plan to bring is a very hard-working team.”
Midway athletic director Aaron Lane talked about what made Carroll emerge in the search process.
“You come into a program like this at Midway that’s pretty much already established,” Lane said. “It’s already set up, the youth leagues and there’s been success here. Success is expected at Midway. I think it was his experience that drew us to him. As we looked through the candidates, it was pretty obvious early on that Justin was the guy for the job. He had done everything right leading up to this. He put himself in position to grow at other schools.
“Obviously, any time you take on coaching dual sports at a school, it means you’re hungry and enthusiastic to grow and get better and you actually want to coach. He did all of those things at South Johnston and before. … We got candidates from all over the United States. … Justin just stood out the whole entire time because of his experience and we knew he would be able to connect with our kids here at Midway High School more than anything.
“For all of the fans, I would just be excited.”