The ice and snow, but maybe not those piles of salt residue, are finally gone from last week’s storms. Spring practices have officially begun for area teams. There are the basketball state championship races still going on this week, but the end of the snow brings the promise of the Spring season of sports.
Here are a few things that will put that slippery ice you battled last week completely out of the mind. You might even find a few things to look forward to in the coming months.
March 4: The Four Oaks Bank Cup finals
It’s probably not the warm spring event you’ll expect in May, but the first championship of the high school sports season gets handed out at Cleveland High School. The finals of the annual Four Oaks Bank Cup will crown the annual county girls soccer champion.
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March 5: Let’s challenge the Amateur qualifier
The first Johnston County prep boys golf match of the season will be played at the Country Club of Johnston County in Smithfield. It’s the first chance area golfers will get to match up with a U.S. Amateur competitor. South Johnston student Patrick Stephenson played in the Amateur last summer.
March 6: The state semifinalists come home
South Johnston, which made the eastern regional championship series in baseball and softball last spring, plays its first dual doubleheader in the two sports of the season at home. The Trojans host rival Clayton in a pair of 4 p.m. games.
March 10: Hello Big Gridiron Pay Day
The annual NFL free agency period officially opens as there will be more of a local interest than normal with Garner graduate Chris Culliver among those expected to be wined and dined by various teams hoping to land the standout cornerback.
And North Johnston alum Willie Smith, a spot starter at offensive tackle with the Chargers the past two seasons, also hits the free agent market. His two-year contract with San Diego expired after the 2014 season.
March 17: Garner and West clash for the first time
If there’s a Greater Neuse River 4A Conference softball championship on the line, chances are there are teams from Garner and West Johnston involved. The two rivals meet for the first time in 2015 at West.
April 4: Let’s Play Four, and Have a Home Run Derby
Opening day at the Johnston County Easter Invitational is a lot like Opening Day in Major League Baseball. Even though the high school season will be about six weeks old, everybody enters Saturday’s opening round with championship hopes. And there’s a Home Run Derby in the middle of the afternoon.
April 9: Say Hello to the Future of the Braves
The Carolina Mudcats open the 2015 season at Five County Stadium, their first as an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. The opening homestand runs from April 9-15.
Saturday, April 25: Chris Archer Bobblehead Night at The Trop
Yes, it’ll take a plane ticket or a long car ride to enjoy it, but one of Johnston County’s own will be honored in the perfect mix of plastic and one crucial metal spring. Clayton native Chris Archer, a Tampa Bay Rays’ standout pitcher, gets his own bobblehead, becoming the first Johnston County athlete to be honored with their own Major League bobblehead giveaway night.
They’ll be available while supplies last at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg before a 6:05 p.m. game.
May 8-16: Running and jumping for the gold
The NCHSAA State Indoor Track and Field Championships saw multiple area athletes bring home state titles earlier this month. The challenge shifts to a bigger track and longer distances in mid-May. Many of those who win in February will be expected to contend at N.C. A&T State University.
Late May: Let’s Play Nine (innings)
The debut of the Garner Nationals American Legion Baseball team that featured players from Garner and Johnston County ended in a run to the state tournament. The quest for state championship glory begins on Memorial Day weekend.
July 3-5: The Fourth with the Mudcats
Carolina is home as usual for the Fourth of July holiday. The Mudcats will host Winston-Salem on July 3 and Myrtle Beach on July 4-5 at Five County Stadium. Each night ends with a massive fireworks display and the games are usually the most well attended of the season. It’s an amazing baseball atmosphere.