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THE GRIND: For South Forsyth baseball, it all starts at the top with senior Alex Andronica
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Alex Andronica was having dinner beach-side in Charleston, S.C., when he could finally take a deep breath.

Years of hard work, determination and dreaming was finally starting to pay off. He and his family were in town—one, to celebrate his mother's birthday, and two, to attend a baseball camp at Charleston Southern University.

Andronica had bugged South Forsyth head coach Russ Bayer to pull some strings. Bayer was familiar with mutual friends of Charleston Southern's head coach, Stuart Lake. After a few phone calls, Andronica was on his way to prove himself to a Division I coaching staff.

After performing well, he was sure of it—riding home—that he'd become a Buccaneer and fulfill his dream of becoming a Division I baseball player.

Four years ago, the short, quiet-mannered shortstop was the most diminutive player on a team full of what Andronica called “big guys” and “a big coach,” referring to Bayer. He said it was intimidating at first, but relationships with older players like former South standout Zach McCrum helped him ease into the rare challenge of being a varsity player as a freshman.

It was early mentorship and an early obsession for the game that led Andronica to a hyper-focused realization at the age of 14.

“I had no doubt,” Andronica said. “I wanted to be a D-I baseball player.”

So for four years, Andronica put himself through weight-lifting programs—with no seasonal breaks, even lifting during the season. He also made sure to observe the mannerisms of his older peers, absorbing the mental side of the game that he knew would make him a viable prospect.

It shows now. To Andronica, his matured attitude and leadership has made him the Zach McCrum, if you will, of the 2016 South Forsyth War Eagles. The team is off to a rocky 6-6 start in region play, but Andronica thinks they'll get over the hump soon. If they're going to do it, it starts with him.

“I put everything on my shoulders,” Andronica said. “As a senior, I bat leadoff, so I have to get everything going in the right direction, whether it's getting on base, getting over. I just have to make sure I make something happen.

“I want to be the hardest worker out there. People look up to me, so I have to push myself and set the standard. As long as the leaders set the standard high, the others will follow. That's how you create success.”

Through the bumps in the road in his senior season, Andronica has also fine-tuned his own attitude.

“You can't get too down on yourself when things go bad,” Andronica said. “You always have to keep it together, keep it cool, and never show much emotion.”

Andronica's pathway through sports has been intentional and calculated since he can remember. At the age of 5 he picked up soccer. Soon after that he was playing running back on the middle school football team. Through it all, he was falling in love with baseball.

But his training in other sports helped with his technical skills. He developed footwork, he says, not from baseball training but from soccer. His footwork benefits him in the infield. As a running back, he developed quickness, which benefits his ability to drop down bunts and sprint down the first base line in games.

When he got to high school, he knew without a doubt that he'd have to drop the other sports.

“I don't regret it,” Andronica said. “I just fell in love with baseball. The competitiveness, the team game. It's all about you and your boys out there. Getting dirty. There's not much to it really, I just liked it more than football.”

Andronica has played outfield with his club team, Team Elite, but—in contrast with the norm—was recruited to play his high school position.

“We play in a really tough region, and a lot of guys in it are going to play college somewhere,” Andronica said. “So the competition is high.”

Elite competition is exactly what Andronica works so hard to compete against, and to close the book on his high school career, he's eager to lead the War Eagles to the state playoffs. They'll have to gain ground on two teams with seven games to go.

“We haven't had the season we're capable of, but we can't look back or give up,” Andronica said. “We've got to make a run.”