Wake Forest-Rolesville (22-3) has dominated the Cap Eight 4A under coach Doug Kinsman and is in position to dominate again with pitcher Brittany Dahle and six other returning starters.
Wake Forest has won its last 136 conference games and Dahle (21-2 in 2012) struck out 238 batters in 2012 while allowing less than one earned run per game. The Cougars led the area in fewest runs allowed (0.652 per game) and had 13 shutouts.
Shortstop Ryan Kostandin (UNC-Pembroke) is a three-year starter and centerfield Allison Scarboro is exceptional defensively and could be a key to the Cougars’ attack. Second baseman Delane Smith solidifies the infield.
Sophomores Katy Holt and Anna Wolfe started last year as freshmen.
“If we can keep our bats going the entire year, this could be one of the strongest teams I have fielded,” Kinsman said.
Despite its conference dominance, the Cougars have not done well in the state playoffs. Wake Forest lost to Middle Creek, 3-1 in the second round of the playoffs last year.
Other teams to watch
Holly Springs: The Hawks, led by graduated pitcher Erica Nunn, have been a dominating program for the past three years. Holly Springs (23-4) reached the 4A championship series last year before losing to Indian Trail Porter Ridge.
Garner: The Trojans (19-3) perennially field one of the top teams in the area. Garner returns eight starters, including pitcher Lauren Marbrey (19-3). Third baseman Madison Stewart (.400) and centerfielder Shea Barbour (.375) are among the veterans from a club that reached the third round of the playoffs.
Apex: The Cougars (18-4) advanced to the state 4A quarterfinals in 2012 before losing to eventual state runner-up Holly Springs 6-5 in extra innings. Junior pitcher Lindsay Hodge was 18-4 and earned all-state recognition. She is among six returning starters.
West Johnston: The Wildcats (19-6) lost in the third round in 2012. Christina Gower, a Newberry recruit, hit .355 and struck out 205 batters in 2012.
Fuquay-Varina: The Bengals (16-7) also reached the third round along with three other Tri-Nine 4A teams. Pitcher Heather Ratcliff, the team MVP in 2012, returns, along with shortstop Ashley Lindsey and second baseman Paige Canfield.
North Johnston: The Panthers (26-2) reached Eastern finals where they lost in three games to Wilson Beddingfield. North has averaged 24 wins a season for the last three years. Pitcher Lauren Batten, a University of North Carolina recruit, has a 0.518 career earned run average and 299 strikeouts in 161 1/3 innings. She has walked only 31 batters.
Middle Creek: The Mustangs (19-7) are led by all-state picks Megan Walker and Alie Burghardt, both sophomores. Senior transfer Tyler Ross has committed to N.C. State and is expected to provide a boost when she enters the lineup.
Athens Drive: Senior Tanya Van Kyk hit .448 in 2012 with 19 runs batted in. Junior Hannah Reynolds hit .455 and belted eight home runs.
Cleveland: The Rams (13-12) are expected to be much improved with pitchers Brittany Bucklin and Taylor Drayton. Mackenzie Cornell hit five home runs in 2012.
Clayton: Right-handed pitcher Nicole Bond is a Northwestern recruit.
Lee County: The Yellow Jackets are led by Chandler Patterson, one of the area’s top players.
North Raleigh Christian: The Knights (10-7) are led by Triangle Independent Schools Athletic Association player of the year Michelle Powers.