Carter Cunningham arrived at Gardner-Webb University planning to spend his entire college baseball career there.
But after hitting well at the beginning of a season eventually shortened by the pandemic, the Battlefield High School graduate began to reconsider his choice.
“All this playing time gave me confidence where I could take it to a bigger school,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham wanted to transfer to East Carolina. The school offered him the chance to play for one of the nation’s top Division I programs. The Pirates have reached the NCAA Tournament five straight seasons. The school also offered him the chance to play alongside his best friend and former Battlefield teammate Zach Agnos.
Cunningham will get the opportunity to play for the Pirates – but just not this season. Cunningham, who signed with the Pirates in November, is spending this school year at Florida SouthWestern.
Cunningham had hoped to attend ECU this year, but Gardner-Webb declined to approve his waiver for an immediate transfer to another four-year school. Even if approved, Cunningham would have still had to sit out a year for transferring, but he would have had the chance to acclimate himself to the school and program.
Cunningham is fine with waiting. He will still have three years of eligibility when he enrolls at ECU starting with the 2021-22 school year.
“I was never anxious about the process,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham was lightly recruited by Division I schools out of Battlefield primarily because of his size as an underclassman. It wasn’t until his junior year that he grew from 5-foot-8 to 6-1. By that point, many Division I programs had already filled their recruiting classes. Although he earned all-state honors as a senior, he had limited options by that point at college baseball’s highest level.
Gardner-Webb, however, gave Cunningham a chance, and he thrived from the start.
The right fielder/first baseman began his freshman season on a roll, collecting hits in each of Gardner-Webb’s first seven games. He also drove in seven and scored four runs. Before the coronavirus ended the season in mid-March, Cunningham was hitting .268 in the middle of the lineup.
“Once I saw I could compete as a freshman, I decided to head out,” said Cunningham, who now stands 6-3, 205.
Cunningham said his decision displeased Gardner-Webb head baseball coach Jim Chester.
“He was not happy,” Cunningham said. “He lost a key part of his team. The phone call was short.”
Cunningham chose Florida SouthWestern in part because of its reputation. He also talked to Battlefield graduate and former FSW player Tyler Solomon about the school. Florida SouthWestern opens its season Jan. 22.
“I want to have a career in baseball and ride it out as long as I can,” Cunningham said. “I will make that sacrifice with no regrets.”