News-Star: Sports

Greater Neuse River 4A, Carolina 1A try new approaches to baseball and softball scheduling

When the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference baseball and softball seasons begin later this month, teams will get very familiar with each other for a week.

It’s one of two altered playing schedules area conferences will use this season. (We will get to the Carolina 1A Conference changes in a minute.)

The league will use a new scheduling format where teams play each other twice in the same week, instead of playing each team once, then playing the same teams in the same order at opposite sites.

The move models the formula high schools in South Carolina use and the formula area high school summer leagues have used in this area for the past couple of seasons.

It’s intended to foster fairer competition between all of the teams, said Clayton athletics director and baseball coach Stacey Houser, who helped push for the move in the GNRC.

“The idea is you will not be able to set your pitching up to face certain teams,” Houser said. “So, you’ll see everybody’s No. 1 pitcher once, but then you’re facing their No. 2 or 3 guy. It’s a move for more team-based competition.”

Houser is quick to admit that few teams have benefitted from a dominant starting pitcher in baseball more than his Comets have in recent memory with the likes of Chris Archer (a 2015 Major League All-Star), Jason Creasy (a pitcher with the Pirates at Double-A last season) and Evan Phillips (a pitcher with the Braves at Single-A last season).

The impact isn’t the same in softball where most teams pitch the same pitcher each game, but the conference decided to try to same schedule for that sport.

With rainouts always a factor in the spring, if a Tuesday meeting between two GNRC schools is washed out, it’s easier to reschedule since both teams are on basically the same schedule for that week.

Thursday it is for Carolina 1A: The Carolina 1A Conference is playing its second conference games in baseball, softball and girls soccer on Thursday this season instead of the standard Friday. So teams will have a league contest on Tuesday, then another on Thursday.

“The change was made mainly do to all of the rained out games we have dealt with the past few years,” said Princeton athletics director Marty Gurganus. “As a conference, we felt that playing Thursday instead of Friday would give us a day we could use to make up a rained out game.”

The NCHSAA prefers that teams make up a game on the next available date for both teams involved.

“When a team has several rained out games, sometimes it becomes difficult to find a common date that works for both schools,” Gurganus said. “Playing on Thursday instead of Friday has helped our conference make up those postponed events.”

Easter Invitational field set: The 2016 Johnston County Easter Invitational prep baseball tournament will be held March 26-29 and features five Johnston schools — host South Johnston, West Johnston, Smithfield-Selma, Clayton and Cleveland — as well as Harnett Central, Bunn and Triton.

First-round match ups on Saturday, March 26, are SSS vs. Clayton at noon, followed by West Johnston vs. Triton, Central vs. Cleveland and South vs. Bunn. There will be a home run derby after the West-Triton tilt.

Play resumes on Monday with the championship game set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 29 at Bruce Coats Field. Every team is set to play three games in the tournament.

Clayton native joins Nittany Lions: Clayton native Cameron Steele has transferred from N.C. State to play men’s soccer at Penn State. Steele played in high school at Cardinal Gibbons.

He was an all-state selection in high school and appeared in 29 matches for the Wolfpack. He had one goal with N.C. State.

“After Cam came for his visit, I told him that I was banking on him as a person,” Penn State coach Bob Warming said. “I was banking on him as a person because the way his team had been playing was much different than the way we play. In training he already is starting to look like he has been here a semester. He fits right in with our team. He is an exceptional student, big time work ethic, thoughtful in his play and tough as nails to get behind.

“He is a great pickup and I am so happy he chose Penn State over a lot of other schools.”