Middle Creek (26-7) entered the playoffs as the second-seeded team from the Tri-Nine, but eventually defeated Cornelius Hough for the state championship. Middle Creek’s title was the fifth time in the last 13 years that a team from the league won the championship.
Coach Jeremy Thompson has four starters back, including centerfielder Keenen Herring, who hit third in the lineup, and exceptional sophomore shortstop Diego Guerrero. Third baseman Tyler Sholar hit .354 in 2012. The pitching staff is led by left-hander Graham Edwards (9-1, 1.78 ERA) and junior right-hander Jordan Towler (4-1 with four saves).
“We are pretty solid,” Thompson said, “but the league is so tough. A year ago, I think a lot of us thought the conference was down a little, but once we got to the playoffs we kept advancing teams. The league looks strong this year.”
Other teams to watch
Cardinal Gibbons: The Crusaders won the Carolina 3A in 2012 and were ousted in the third round of the playoffs 1-0 by Eastern Alamance.
Fuquay-Varina: The Bengals are led by N.C. State recruit Garrett Suggs, an exceptional centerfielder. Milton Senter, the dean of area baseball coaches, has four returning starters, shortstop D.J. Burt, third baseman Brett Daneils and catcher Brian Mitchell.
Green Hope: The Falcons (19-6) were the Tri-Nine 4A champions in 2012 and return six starters. The attack could be led by junior shortstop Stephen Pitarra (.326), junior Thomas Yoder (.329) and senior Luca Scelsi (.358). Daniel Weygandt was 7-2 with a 1.77.
Holly Springs: The Hawks (12-13) won the state crown in 2011 and are expected to be better than a year ago. Junior Andy Wantz (2.00 ERA) and Brian Fortier (2.08 ERA) are back.
Leesville Road: The Pride (17-7) returns five starters for new coach Guy Civitello. Infielders Michael Kelly, Joe Lenox and Dillon Cooper could be a strength.
Millbrook: The Wildcats (17-8) reached the fourth round of the 2012 playoffs and are led by pitcher Brian Nobles, a Western Carolina recruit who threw a no-hitter in 2012. Outfielder Zach Dixon hit .359 and catcher Chandler Parrish hit .346 in 2012.
Sanderson: The Spartans (14-11) may be the preseason favorite in the Cap Eight 4A. Five starters return including third baseman Cas Silber (High Point University) and second baseman Tyler Hardee (Methodist University).
Voyager: The Vikings (20-8) had no seniors in 2012, but played for the NCHSAA 1A championship. Catcher Hunter Coats is outstanding and pitchers Loy Stone and Chad Sykes were all-state selections. Centerfielder Kiki Kornegay is a top-flight reliever.
Wake Forest-Rolesville: The Cougars (13-9) return five starters, including Cam Johnson and David Flynn.
West Johnston: The Wildcats (19-4) won the Greater Neuse in 2012 and have an experienced club led by UNC-Wilmington recruit Justin Carroll.
Players to watch
Camby Abell, Apex, Sr.: Four-year pitching starter for the Cougars.
Joe Bialkowski, Broughton, Sr.: Georgetown recruit is a four-year starter and is expected to pitch and play the outfield this season.
John Cook, North Raleigh Christian, Sr.: Catcher hit .509 in 2012.
Brighton Hudson, Garner, Jr.: Left-handed pitched was 6-0 with 1.38 ERA.
Jacob Quintal, Heritage, Jr.: Cap Eight 4A newcomer of the year in 2012 with 2.6 ERA.
Wood Myers, Durham Jordan, Sr.: PAC VI player of the year in 2012 and an all-state selection.