Apex softball was dominant for most of last season but lost to eventual 4A East champion Wake Forest in the third round. Middle Creek fell to Wake Forest just one round later.
Both teams are poised to go even further this year.
Apex (20-2) returns conference player of the year Lindsay Hodge (batted .500 with 30 RBIs; had a 1.56 ERA with 128 strikeouts) and a strong senior class with Mckenzie Brown, Kierstyn Drum and Alexis Overdiep (.458), a UNC-Greensboro recruit. All-state junior Cassie Healy (.464) also returns.
Middle Creek (19-4) also has seven returning starters. The Mustangs have four returning all-district players: senior third baseman Lauren Panella and juniors Megan Walker, an outfielder, Allie Burghardt, a utility player, and Winthrop commitment Kiley Majette, a pitcher.
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Fuquay-Varina (14-5) brings back hard-hitting senior first baseman Kelsey Ward, junior catcher Megan Tarpey and sophomore outfielder Ashlyn Long.
Green Hope (14-8) and Holly Springs (7-12) both have new coaches this year. Green Hope, under coach Morgan Caddell, will be led by senior pitcher Ali Then (2.07 ERA) and outfielder Lauren Clifford (.455).
Britney Smith is the fourth Holly Springs coach in the last five seasons. Infielder Katlyn Hillesland, a senior, is the leading returner.
Athens Drive (10-13) will have at least two lively bats in senior Hannah Reynolds and Olivia Barrata. Reynolds, a Furman recruit, missed her junior year due to injury.
Cary (7-13) returns junior Priscilla Sanchez from the all-conference team.
Panther Creek (1-15) will be led by senior all-state outfielder Madison Thompson.