South Granville, coming off its second straight appearance in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A baseball championship series, brings back two of the best arms in the state.
Senior Justin Bullock (141 strikeouts, 1.49 ERA; also hit .460 with 10 home runs) and junior Holden Laws (119 strikeouts, 0.90 ERA), both N.C. State recruits, were dominant last year. They’ll help offset the loss of 10 seniors – four starters – that fell in last year’s title series in three games but won it all in 2015.
South Granville has a new head coach in Jeff Tate, who has previously coached at Northern Vance and J.F. Webb and is currently the athletic director at Northern Vance.
Note: A Triangle preview covering conferences where most of the teams are located in Wake, Durham, Orange and Johnston counties ran Saturday. This preview covers the rest of the The N&O coverage area.
Eastern Carolina 3A/4A: D.H. Conley (23-4) won the always tough conference, edging out C.B. Aycock (21-5), J.H. Rose (18-8) and South Central (16-9).
Conley’s Noah Jones batted .463, and Rose’s Gregory Hardison hit .356. Jones also had an 0.58 ERA in 36 1/3 innings. Rose’s Ryan Goodwin had a 1.33 ERA.
Eastern Wayne (13-10) will also factor into the conference race.
Big East 3A: Three teams tied for the conference title last year – Rocky Mount (13-9), Northern Nash (9-12) and Hunt (13-13). Northern Nash returns Silas Gonzalez, Joshua Daniels, Devin Davenport and Dylan Carter.
Fike (12-11) pitcher Jaelynn Melton had a 2.00 ERA. Ryan Marlowe of Southern Nash (10-14) hit .338, and Cameron Taylor of Nash Central (10-14) hit .333.
Eastern Plains 2A: North Johnston (20-3) returns a stellar pitching staff to last year’s conference championship group: Logan Hayes (0.66 ERA), Dylan Radford (1.08 ERA) and Steven Worley (1.32). Blake McLean (.382) was the Panthers’ leading hitter.
North Pitt (20-4) will be a challenge since everyone returns from last year’s team.
Northern Carolina 2A: To show how good of a conference this was last year, keep in mind that Bunn (20-4) finished two games ahead of South Granville (24-5) and a half-game ahead of Roanoke Rapids (17-5).
Clay Walters, Tucker Brown, Luke Bradshaw and Austin Bailey will help the Vikings’ lineup. Bunn’s Davie Morgan hit .407 and will lead the young, but talented, Wildcats.
Franklinton (10-13) brings back top pitcher Branson Capps. Southern Vance (3-18) returns Logan Waite, Matthew Perkins and Clay Faulkner.
Carolina 1A: Spring Creek (19-7) won the league title but loses most of its pitching Levi Miller is the top returning hitter (.353). Rosewood (16-9) is led by Derek Neal (.362).
Princeton (20-7) has four returning players from last year, including All-Metro pick Tanner Flowers (0.17 ERA) and catcher Alex Hickman, who threw out 41 percent of baserunners last year.
Neuse Charter (3-16) is hoping to make a leap this year behind Bubba Noles, Dawson Tippett, Tyler Hammer and Cole Gurley.
Misc. 4A: Pinecrest (20-9) is led by UNC recruit Nik Pry (.356 average, 1.48 ERA), Seth Caddell (.345) and Trent McKay (.326, 1.96 ERA).
Misc. 3A: Defending Cape Fear Valley 3A champ Southern Lee (19-7) and Lee County (19-6) will be the favorites again with Union Pines (16-12) challenging.
Lee County has a new coach in Jevon Wade and returning All-Metro player Jake Thomas (batted .410, 1.97 ERA). Dylan Cox (.403) and Evan Wells (.429) give the Jackets solid hitting. Southern Lee’s Noah Terhune (.393) is back as well as All-Metro pick Topher Grant (.377, 0.54 ERA)
Union Pines’ Ryder Giles batted .373 and Riley Cameron (.351) belted six homers.
Misc. 2A: Carrboro (10-15) was the runner-up in the Mid-State and has a new coach in former South Granville assistant Kevin Ladd. Noah Jones, Stephen Travers, William Wagner and Gregory Watson are back for the Jaguars.
Ayden-Grifton (15-10) is led by Zach Swanson (.333).
Misc. 1A: Granville Central (10-9) and Louisburg (14-5) finished atop the Tar-Roanoke with Oxford Prep (11-11) close behind. Louisburg graduated just four players, Granville Central three and Oxford Prep brings everyone back.
North Moore (15-11) was tied for second in the Central Tar Heel
Private schools: Greenville’s Oakwood (24-2) won the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1A title and returns Jackson Carriere (.354). Austin Goins (1.36 ERA) and Charles Corey (2.10 ERA) will be on the mound.
Kerr-Vance (19-4) will challenge Oakwood for conference and state titles.
Wayne Country Day (12-8-1) is led by John Strickland (.441). Faith Christian Rocky Mount (21-4) will contend for a 2A title.