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Eagles' Mitchell swinging for big numbers again


Concerning baseball, Centennial center fielder Curtis Mitchell takes nothing for granted.

He led the league in batting last season at .452, a feat that might lead some players to complacency.

Not Mitchell. The slendersenior with a compact swing worked harder than ever last summer, hoping it will make him an even better hitter.

So far the extra work has paid off. A year ago he started the season 0-for-10. As of Thursday, he was 7-for-13. He had Centennial's only three hits during its first two games and went 4-for-4 against Liberty in the Eagles' first victory on Wednesday.

"It's a challenge to see if I can lead the league in hitting two times," he said. "I'm excited about jumping out of the box quickly this season."

One hitting aspect Mitchell worked extensively on last summer was driving the ball to right field. And against Liberty, two of the right-handed hitter's base hits went to right -- one on a hit-and-run play.

He credits Gary Kendall, a Baltimore Orioles scout who teaches hitting at Grand Slam in Woodlawn, for improving his batting skills.

"I preferred pitches inside or over the plate last season and was a fastball hitter," Mitchell said. "Now I like curves because I can take them to right field."

Mitchell had a quick bat last season, but thinks his off-season work has made his swing even quicker. He holds the bat unusually close to his body and waits until the last possible second before swinging.

He hit 100 to 120 balls per day at Grand Slam four or five times a week from January until high school practice began in March. He also has a practice batting tee and net set up in his garage.

"Baseball is a game of muscle memory. You can lose your swing quickly, so I don't let much more than a day go by without swinging a bat," he said. "Right now I'm feeling confident in my swing."

The practice at Grand Slam wasn't the only way Mitchell used to improve himself.

He played for the Dayton Raiders 18-and-under team last summer and batted .395 in the competitive Metro League. He attended the Best in Virginia Baseball Camp at the University of Virginia and the Farris Baseball Camp in Fairfax, Va.

Mitchell also played fall baseball for the Columbia Reds, the team he intends to play for this summer.

He has a Paul Blair-type build. At 6-foot and 150 pounds, he doesn't look like a power hitter. But he produced six doubles, two triples and two home runs last season.

He has the added dimension of speed. He stole 10 bases in 12 attempts and runs the 60-yard -- in 6.9 seconds.

Defensively, he makes it look effortless. He gets a good jump, covers lots of ground and made just three errors in 52 chances last season.

"He's always hit well and always done well defensively," Eagles coach Ron Martin said of his three-year starter. "He's ready to hit at the next level, and Division I teams have called about him. The only drawback is his arm. But when he needs to throw, it always tends to be there."

Mitchell threw out a Frederick runner trying to score from second base on a single this season. He had five assists for Dayton last summer.

His four-hit effort against Liberty was not his first one -- and probably not his last. He had four against Hammond last season. And he had a four-hit game for Dayton against the Little Orioles -- three off James Madison redshirt Jason White and one off fireballing Mike Goldberg.

As for college, he's interested in James Madison, East Carolina, George Mason and Butler (Ind.).

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