Fuquay-Varina came achingly close to winning the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A baseball championship in 2013 and is No. 1 in the 4A preseason Impact Baseball ranking.
Veteran coach Milton Senter, who is starting his 38th year as the Bengals’ coach, said Fuquay has some talented players, but notes the team graduated the entire outfield, the catcher and the second baseman. All are expected to play college ball this spring.
“We do have some really good players returning, but we have more question marks than we do answers right now,” Senter said. “The league once again should be great and a real dog fight to the end.”
The Bengals (30-6) won the first game in the best of three championship series and led 4-0 in the deciding third game before losing the game, and the title, to South Mecklenburg.
The Bengals’ strength is North Carolina pitching recruit Brett Daniels (12-2) and N.C. State pitching recruit Jordan Bissette. Daniels also leads the attack and hit .432 a year ago. Shortstop D.J. Burt and Daniels were all-state selections.
Other teams to watch
Garner (24-3): The Trojans were a dominating team much of last year and reached the Eastern semifinals before losing to Richmond County. Lefthander Brighton Hudson posted a 9-0 record with a 0.71 ERA. He struck out 79 while earning all-state honors. Garner returns only three starters.
Sanderson (17-7): The Spartans are ranked among the top 10 in 4A by Impact Baseball. UNC Greensboro recruit Daniel Dulaney was unhittable much of last season. He allowed only five earned runs in 11 starts and finished 9-1 with a 0.65 ERA and 65 strikeouts and was an all-state pick Western Carolina recruit. Matt Koehler and Pfeiffer recruit Connor Baldy also are back.
Green Hope (22-6): The Falcons look loaded with the return of Thomas Yoder, who hit .402 with 14 doubles and three home runs. The Liberty recruit will be joined by N.C. State shortstop recruit Stephen Pitarra, William and Mary recruit Vincent Addona and Charleston Southern recruit Eric Gilbert.
Riverside (18-9): The Pirates return four starters from a team that won the PAC-Six 4A in 2013. Left-handed pitcher Blake Morgan was all-conference and is back with fellow lefties Will Hibbard and Kory Behenna.
Holly Springs (21-6): Catcher Mikey Sconzo (Charleston Southern), pitcher/first baseman Andy Wantz, a UNC Greensboro recruit, and junior shortstop Conlin Hughes are the Hawk leaders. Coach Rod Whitesell has three starters back.
Orange (27-4): The Panthers reached the 3A East championship series before losing in three games to Greenville Conley. Senior pitcher Jordan Toney (Pfieffer), sophomore pitcher Bryse Wilson (North Carolina commitment) and sophomore catcher Brad Debo (South Carolina commitment) are back.
Voyager Academy (21-6): Pitcher and second baseman Chad Sykes, a UNC Greensboro recruit, should keep Voyager in 1A contention.
Triton (19-9): The Hawks are ranked among the top 3A teams in the state by Impact Baseball and return seven starters. Brett McLambe was the league player of the year. Barton recruits Trent Fennell and Tyler Tyndall were all-conference picks as was centerfielder Todd Penny. Austin Lee is a three-time all-conference selection.
Carrboro (13-11): The Jaguars got hot late last year and dashed to the 2A Eastern semifinals, where they lost to Northwood. Spencer Brown is a High Point commitment.
Harnett Central (13-10): The Trojans have a strong junior class with Appalachian State recruit Darryl Johnson, who hit .407, and N.C. State pitching recruits Cole Hart (4-3, 2.94 ERA) and Tyson Messer (4-4, 2.86).
South Johnston (16-9): Trojans graduated 11 seniors and count on senior shortstop Josh Stikeleather to anchor the infield.
Apex (10-12): Chase Denison (NYU), Carter Hicks (Guilford), Alex Yarem (Campbell) and Brett McMillan (Brunswick Community College) have signed with colleges.
Leesville Road (13-9): Juniors Jack Conley (N.C. State commitment) and Dillon Cooper (East Carolina commitment) pitch for the Pride. Conley catches and Cooper plays shortstop. Outfielders Will Stephens and Sam Duncan were all-conference picks.
Heritage (12-13): Cullen Cicotte (Chowan University), Jordan DeBerry (St. Andrews), Brett Moore (Southeastern Community College) and Graham Upton (U.S. Naval Academy) are expected to be the leaders.
Wakefield (13-10): Senior pitcher Evan Brabrand, a football quarterback standout, is a two-time all-conference pick and is one of five returning starters.
Millbrook (13-11): Shortstop Brian Miller (UNC Asheville), pitcher Gunner Deal (USC Lancaster) and Chris Scott (Pitt Community College) are among five returning starters.
Northwood (24-7): The Chargers reached the 2A East championship series before losing in three games to North Brunswick. Northwood graduated six all-conference players and has moved up to 3A this season.
Players to watch
Josh Greene, Raleigh Grace Christian, Sr.: 6-foot-4 pitcher signed with N.C. Central.
Tim Hutter, Ravenscroft, Sr.: Shortstop hit .417 in 2013.
Omar Rincon, Granville Central, Sr.: The speedy senior stole 48 bases last year – the second-most in state history – in 52 attempts. He stole eight bases in a game twice, which is also second-most.
Cam Johnson, Wake Forest, Sr.: Davidson recruit hit .357 and joins Mars Hill commitment Fausto Turro and David Flynn among seven returning starters from a 4-13 club.
Richard Landis, North Raleigh Christian, Sr.: Left-handed pitcher was 7-2 with a 2.89 ERA. Infield teammate Trey Hogan has signed with Peace University.
Josh Maciejewski, Panther Creek, Sr.: Signed with Charlotte.
Steven Oakley, Jordan, Jr.: The N.C. State commitment hit .348 with 20 RBI in 2013.
Stephen Scott, Cardinal Gibbons, Jr.: Vanderbilt commitment hit .440 and led the area with seven home runs. He drove in 22 runs and stole 15 bases.
Cullen Boyette, Southern Lee, Sr.: Hit .443 with 35 hits and 35 RBIs to lead the Cavaliers (20-7) to a share of the Cape Fear Valley 3A title.
Tim Stevens: 919-829-8910