The Southwest Wake Athletic Conference got the maximum six teams into the NCHSAA playoffs – at least under last year’s format. Middle Creek, the 4A East runnerup, led the way.
The Mustangs, and the rest of the SWAC are are poised for another big season this year. After all, the rules have changed since last season and there is no conference limit on teams that can reach the playoffs.
Middle Creek (21-4, 12-2): The 4A East runnerup return junior pitcher Devin Wallace, who was 14-3 with 162 strikeouts. She is committed to Coastal Carolina.
Pitcher Kiley Majette (Winthrop recruit) and outfielder Megan Walker (Appalachian State) also are back. Shortstop Alie Burghart, outfielder Rachael Klass and third baseman Lily Morris are returning, giving the Mustangs most of their heaviest hitters.
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Fuquay-Varina (17-5, 11-3): Bengals coach Deb Clarke (308-84) has eight starters returning. Among the veterans are third baseman Logan Bowling (Salem College), catcher Megan Tarpey (Meredith), centerfielder Aleyah Evans (N.C. Central), pitcher Kaitlan Smith (UNC-Pembroke), shortstop Ashlyn Long (Western Carolina) and pitcher Cassidy Keith, a junior.
Apex (15-5, 11-3): Six starters return for the Cougars, including catcher Kaitlyn Long, shortstop Cassie Healy (Lenior-Rhyne) and outfielder Bailey Hathaway.
Green Hope (13-8, 7-7): The Falcons picked up big wins last year against Fuquay-Varina and Apex. Green Hope had junior Cameron Cook and senior Natsumi Koyama on the all-conference team and brings back junior Shae Condon and sophomore Kamron Phillips.
Holly Springs (8-12, 5-9): The Golden Hawks ended the year red-hot, including a win against Middle Creek. Senior Abby Snidemiller is a four-year starter.
Panther Creek (9-10, 5-9): The Catamounts made their first postseason trip and then shocked Triangle powerhouse Wake Forest 4-3. Sophomore Sarah Aukamp and senior Sydney Rush are the the leading returners for the young team.
Athens Drive (9-11, 5-9): Five returning starters are back for new coach Mike Van Horn.
Cary (2-16, 0-14): The Imps bring back all-conference pick Priscilla Sanchez as well as Western Carolina recruit Erica Hayes.
Last 10 conference champions
Tournament champs in parentheses*
2014: Middle Creek
2012: Holly Springs
2011: Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina
2008: Fuquay-Varina and Middle Creek
2006: Fuquay-Varina (Fuquay-Varina)
2005: Fuquay-Varina (Middle Creek
*conference tournament discontinued in 2007