With two weeks left in the regular season, the Fairhope (Ala.) Pirates (22-4) are ranked No. 1 in the 6A state rankings and have a state championship in their sights, which is right where Daryl Norris expected the Pirates to be.
The standout pitcher, who is ranked one of the top 100 players in the country by MaxPreps, felt heading into the season that the Pirates would be the team to beat and so far they haven't disappointed. With a 22-4 record, Fairhope has been ranked No. 1 in the state in each of the three coaches polls released by the state association thus far on the season.
"We expect to win state this year; that's our goal," said Norris. "We have guys that can hit the ball hard all the way down our lineup and who can also play great defense. We have a very solid pitching staff and some really good relievers. We had a good run at it last year so we knew what it takes to get there and we are willing to put in the time and work that it takes."
Of course it helps to have a player like Norris in the lineup. The list of honors is a long one for the pitcher/second baseman who was the Class 6A state player of the year as a junior. He is also a four-year all-county selection, a member of the Birmingham News All-State Team and also a Louisville Slugger High School All-American.
The honors are well deserved, based on his performance as a junior. He batted .487 with 50 RBI, 42 walks, eight doubles and 13 home runs at the plate while going 8-3 with a 1.25 ERA that included 90 strikeouts.
The stats are nearly as impressive this year. With nearly 10 games left to play and a potential long run in the playoffs, Norris is batting .403 with 45 RBI, 11 doubles and five home runs. He's also 6-1 on the mound with a 2.02 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings pitched. Norris suffered his first loss of the season on Monday in a 6-2 loss to Pace (Fla.).
A two-sport athlete, Norris was also one of the top quarterbacks in the state this year. He earned second-team all-state honors as a junior and first team as a senior. He also was selected to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic. While Norris has been one of the state's top hitters during his high school career, he will likely find a home at the next level as a pitcher.
"I went to the East Coast Professional Showcase last year and spent a week with some of the best players in the country," said Norris. "It was a great experience and gave me a chance to compete against some great players. As a pitcher, I did not get a chance to swing the bat, but thankfully I had a good outing and did fairly well (on the mound). I struck out six of the 13 batters I faced."
Norris has committed to play at Mississippi State next year, but could also face the decision of choosing between college and professional baseball, since he will likely be chosen in the MLB draft in June.
"Playing in the Major Leagues is something that I have always wanted to do," said Norris. "I feel blessed to have Major League scouts come watch me pitch and to have a chance to play professional baseball. Whether it's after this season or after college, it is definitely something I want to do."
Norris credits his father with helping him become a Major League prospect.
"My dad played college baseball and he has coached me all the way through Little League," said Norris. "He taught me the fundamentals of baseball and the right way to play the game. He had me hitting Nerf balls off the living room walls at a year-and-a-half. He gave me every bit of instruction that I needed going into high school baseball."
Norris showed he was plenty ready for high school baseball when he was just an eighth-grader. Already a member of the high school team, Norris hit a walkoff home run in the 12th inning of a first-round single elimination playoff game.
"It was the best feeling I've ever had since I've been playing baseball," said Norris. "It was huge honor when I learned that a local pastor used that moment as the basis of his sermon the following Sunday."
Norris and his teammates hope to have more soaring moments when they begin the long road to an Alabama state title on April 15. Norris notes that there is plenty of good competition in the 6A ranks.
"One of our toughest competitors is just 8 miles up the road," he said. "Daphne (Ala.) has a history of good athletic teams and is always well coached. We will also face Jones (Madison, Ala.) and Hillcrest (Evergreen, Ala.). All these teams are history-rich in baseball and other sports."
However, Norris also noted that the Pirates have plenty of talent, as well, with shortstop Garrett Pitts, catcher Evan East, infielder Wes Kent and pitchers Peyton Fuller and Ashton Johnson all capable of playing college baseball.
"As a team we are doing great," said Norris. "But we expect and work to get better every time we step on the field."