At the start of the 2019 baseball season for Orange High School, head coach Jason Knapp knew what he had in junior shortstop Joey Berini.
Berini, who was set to start for his third consecutive year on the varsity team for the Panthers, had just come off a sophomore season where he led the team in batting average (.369) and hits (24). Knapp knew his star would work harder and lead “by example,” as he told the News of Orange County back in March.
“He’s kind of a quiet young man,” Knapp said in March. “He gets after it. He’s a competitor. He shows why he’s held that position down for the past few years.”
Berini certainly kept up that drive this past season, leading to multiple accolades and a commitment to East Carolina on June 26. The class of 2020 player was named the Big 8 Conference Player of the Year, 3A All-State by the North Carolina Baseball Coaches Association and First Team All-PBR for the state of North Carolina on June 27.
On Friday morning Berini received his latest honor with a selection to the first HighSchoolOT All-East team after a junior season that saw Berini hit a team-high .541 average with 33 hits, 12 doubles, 26 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. The 5-foot-10, 170 pound infielder from Hillsborough started the season as the No. 2 hitter in the lineup, but was quickly moved to the leadoff role. Knapp called him the team’s spark plug.
“He just sets the tone with his demeanor and the way he plays the game so hard and his energy is just infectious on the team,” Knapp said. “He’s a great leader.”
Berini’s leadership was another aspect of his game that improved as the year went on. He learned to not just lead by example, but by using his voice to steer his teammates.
“He’s grown into a leadership role where he’s now starting to be a little bit more vocal,” Knapp said. “He always does a great job by leading by example but now he’s starting to be a little bit vocal. He is a coach on the field as far as directing traffic and he’s always in the right spot.”
The “coach on the field” helped carry his team to a 14-6 record in Knapp’s first season at the helm that included a run to the the 3A State Playoffs, where Orange lost to J.H. Rose High School.
But Berini’s work did not stop there. A trait seen in many great athletes is a certain will and determination that drives them to excellence, and Berini possesses that quality.
Not only has he spent the summer playing for the Carolina Cubs, a showcase team out of Youngsville, N.C., he made the Region 3 Powerade State Games team that competed in Charlotte beginning on June 13.
It was there in Charlotte that Knapp believes Berini won over the East Carolina coaching staff, leading to his commitment on June 26.
“I was down there working the event for two days and he had a great workout day, which I know turned some heads,” said Knapp, who fielded several calls from the ECU coaching staff after that weekend. “He improved his 60 time, which was huge for him.”
Knapp believes the offer from East Carolina is a product of all the hard work from Berini, from on-field training to lifting weights and taking extra work in the field and in the batting cage. Hard work was required not just from Berini, but from his family as well.
“You feel great for the family because they put so much time and effort into traveling around the Southeast to different venues so that he could play and get him exposed to scouts,” Knapp said.
Amidst all the success for Berini, it’s easy to forget that he is still a rising senior in high school. That’s why Knapp believes it’s important that Berini relax and enjoy the rest of his summer.
“I told him, ‘It’s time to finish up your summer and then take a deep breath and relax and enjoy all of what your hard work has brought for you. Take a long moment to reflect on that because you only get to do this one time, going through high school, and then you’re getting all these accolades. Take time to enjoy it and reflect,’” Knapp said.
But once the summer ends, the hard work will continue as Berini continues to build on his success and look toward his promising future at the next level.
“His goal needs to be to validate all these accolades going into senior year and to also get ready for the fall at East Carolina the following fall because that’s going to be a big time for him as he enters into the collegiate ranks as far as being a college baseball player,” Knapp said.