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HOMETOWN HERO: Former Forestview star Reilly Hovis helps Gastonia Honey Hunters to one of best seasons in city history

By Richard Walker

When the Gastonia Honey Hunters became an Atlantic League of Professional Baseball expansion franchise in 2021 set to play in the city’s new CaroMont Health Park, the team had hopes of signing local players and attracting fans.

Reilly Hovis

With the help of former Forestview High star Reilly Hovis, that’s happened in addition to some historic success.

A 2011 Forestview graduate, Hovis is played all or parts of both Honey Hunters’ seasons, including all of the current season that ended on Sunday in 3-2 best-of-five series loss to High Point for the Southern Division title.

Gastonia rolled through the regular season with an 88-44 record and won both the first- and second-half division titles.

“This was team with such a good group of guys,” Hovis said. “When you’re winning and playing with guys you enjoy playing with, it makes it special.”

Hovis was among the first Honey Hunters’ players in the 2021 inaugural season.

The ALPB has a contract with major league baseball that allows any of its 30 teams to sign players from ALPB rosters and Hovis was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization three weeks into last season.

A ninth-round pick of the Miami Marlins in the 2015 major league draft after an All-ACC and ACC championship-winning career at North Carolina, Hovis had four years of professional baseball experience and was placed on the Blue Jays’ Class AA team in New Hampshire.

After Hovis went 2-4 with a 6.53 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts), the Blue Jays nor any other team signed him to a contract after he was allowed to become a free agent in November.

“If I had pitched a little bit better, they might have brought me back,” said Hovis, who was 2012 Gaston Gazette player of the year at Forestview and a 2013 ACC champion and 2014 All-ACC selection at North Carolina. “I understood they wanted to go in a different direction.”

The Honey Hunters, coming off a 54-66 record in their first season, were working on their 2022 roster and manager Mauro “Goose” Gozzo and pitching coach Reggie Harris felt Hovis could help.

“Goose and Reggie called me in January wondering if I wanted to come back,” Hovis said. “And of course I did.”

Once back in Gastonia, not only did Hovis rejoin the Honey Hunters, he was a part of the best team by winning percentage – .667 – in the city’s professional baseball history that dates to 1915.

The 88 victories made this year’s team the fourth-winningest pro baseball team in Gastonia history; The 1989 Gastonia Rangers went 92-48 and the 1952 Gastonia Rockets (89-50) and 1983 Gastonia Expos (89-59) each won 89 games.

“I don’t think anybody said anything after we won the first half,” Hovis said. “Usually, after winning the first half, there’s a lull since there’s nothing really to play for because you’re in the playoffs. But we came out and won 13 straight games and kept on winning.”