Despite significant gradations from last year’s teams, both Chapel Hill and East Chapel Hill expect to be competitive this year, while defending Mid-State champion Carrboro looks like it could repeat.
Carrboro graduated six starters from last year’s 15-9 team that went 9-1 in league games, but it returns three all-conference players, including a solid infield and 2015 Mid-State Pitcher of the Year Skylar Furey (7-2).
All-conference catcher-pitcher Collin Andres returns, as does Matthew Junker at first base, Will Wagner at second/shortstop and all-conference third-baseman and outfielder Noah Jones
Junker, like Furay, routinely switches between first and the mound, and the Jaguars are adding Stephen Travers, Noah Jones and freshman Elijah Jones to the pitching staff, “all of who have not pitched because of the strength of our pitching staff last year, coach Shaughn Neal said.
Chapel Hill has perhaps the most uphill climb to make of any local team. The Tigers (16-9, 8-6) finished one game out of third place last year in a very tough Big 8 Conference, and they graduated their top five pitchers – responsible for 14 of the 16 wins. The other two wins belonged to Pembroke football signee Connor Stough, who plans to eschew pitching and stay at shortstop this year.
Andrew Miller, the 2015 Big 8 Pitcher of the year and Chapel Hill’s top hitter (.467, 23 RBI), is now at Davidson.
The good news for Chapel Hill is that four of its next six best hitters are back – outfielders Nick Hebert (.420) and Blake Rasnake (.344); and infielders Stough (.351) and Garrett Liebe (.294) .
“Many key pieces of our 2015 line up are back,” CHHS coach Lee Land says. “I am confident that our underclassmen will step into their roles and produce.”
East Chapel Hill (15-7, 8-3) once again looks like the fox lurking in the weeds of the PAC-6, where Northern Durham and new conference member Cardinal Gibbons expect to dominate.
Northern (17-8, 10-0) provided a rare exception in 2015 to the usual pattern in the PAC-6, where East looks like the underdog every year but then picks one or two wins off the top teams and then goes at least one or two rounds into the state playoffs. Last year, Northern went undefeated in league games, and East bowed out in the first round of the playoffs with a loss to eventual East 4A champion Millbrook.
East returns as many veteran players as anyone in the district, including its top hitter from 2016 – Sean Moore (407, 22 RBI) – and Jeb Byerley, Brad Rice, Jackson Hicks, Chris Clarke and Austin Shank.
“I like this club,” East coach Phil Woodell says. “We just need to get on the field and play as much as possible.”
East Chapel Hill will play Friday, March 4 at Carrboro, then Carrboro will visit East Chapel Hill on Saturday, March 5.
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