With the high school baseball season underway, one look across the division shows a competitive race among the seven-team Mideastern Conference, with North Brunswick expected to make a push in the 2A classification among East Central Conference ball clubs.
The defending league champion Topsail Pirates are coming off a 25-3 season and 10-2 mark in league play. With Clemson commit Sam Hall topping the list as an early favorite to win Player of the Year honors, Topsail is looking to fill the shoes of six student-athletes who have gone on to play college baseball. Hall hit .443 last season and Barton College signee Chase Riker will return at second base to solidify the middle infield. Josh Madole is also back at first base after getting a ton of varsity experience as a sophomore, with Aaron Beach in the outfield and Payton Rice looking to fill a void at top of the rotation.
Connor Simpson looks to be healthy after coming back from a shoulder injury last year and provides a big bat in the middle of the Hoggard lineup. Brad Pennington will serve as a key asset at the top of the order and in the field at shortstop.
Corbin Field along Shipyard Boulevard underwent a major face lift heading into the spring, with a new brick backstop and press box highlighting the renovation.
Laney has a new coach at the helm, with longtime assistant Jason Bentzler leading the program after Aaron Livengood stepped aside to focus more on his new position as Assistant Principal in Buctown. Methodist College signee Stephen Hagewood leads the staff and Jon Speight is back after leading the team in hitting last season with a .348 batting average.
Brian Stewart and his coaching staff have been at Ashley for the schools entire existence. Thanks to efforts in the community, a new hitting facility is nearly complete, which will be located between the baseball and softball fields on campus. Left-handed pitcher Kevin Mintz has garnered attention at the college level, while Christian Tafoya, Reggie Reagan, Lee Fentress and Evan Laverick look to push the Screaming Eagles over the top.
With Adam Pecoraro at shortstop and Caleb Bishop back on the mound for New Hanover, the Wildcats are eager to prove themselves. Fulton Hill has swung a hot bat early this spring and Casey Miller is expected to log some innings for the black and orange.
North Brunswick saw a pair of players advance to the college level this season, but the Scorpions are hungry with Trey Parrish getting a shot to play shortstop. Jaheed Cason is an All-Conference player with a ton of speed in center field, while Trenton Chasteen has shown improvement behind the plate. Jalyn Perkins is expected to provide a good glove on at the hot corner and a solid bat.
T.J. Spivey begins his second year as head coach in Shallotte and West Brunswick is looking for some depth in the rotation with Jonathan Carlyle returning as the only proven arm on the mound. College commit Hunter Ashburn has been a solid performer at catcher and Tyler Stanley brings a great speed to the outfield and as lead-off hitter. Zack Johnson joined Ashburn at last summer’s NC State games and will play a big part in the heart of the Trojans’ lineup.
South Brunswick has just three seniors on the club in Mitch Harris, Caleb Clemmons and Tanner Coley, but Coach Mike Anderson is hopeful some of his returners will be able to log innings on the mound after losing their top two pitchers to graduation. Andrew Phillips, Zack Kelly and Corey Entrekin will also play a role in the rotation for a young squad eager to prove themselves in a tight Mideastern Conference race.
Head Coach: Brian Stewart (15th season)
2015 record: 12-12 overall, 5-7 conference
Key returners: Christian Tafoya (P/SS); Kevin Mintz (LHP); Lee Fentress (INF); Evan Laverick (CF); Cason Valentine (C); Reggie Reagan (C/DH); D.C. Russ (P/1B/OF)
Newcomers: Callahan Klos, Ben Foxall, Sean Ross
Team strengths: pitching depth; varsity experience
Head Coach: Jeep St. Ledger (36th season)
2015 record: 16-9 overall, 8-4 conference
Key returners: Brad Pennington (SS); Brett Harms (3B/P); Connor Simpson (C); Nick Sander (1B/P); Cole Cannon (OF/1B); Patterson Carroll (OF); J.P. Graham (CF); Rob Wilkerson (P/OF); Sam Schmidt (2B); J.P. Price (P/OF)
Newcomers: Cameron Godfrey, Trey Rivenbark, Matthew Suggs, Pantelis Poulus, Hunter Gaylord, Austin Kenyon, Logan Adams, Zach Zabriskie
Team strengths: Team speed, solid defense, five starters back in lineup
Head Coach: Jason Bentzler (1st season)
2015 record: 10-12 overall, 3-9 conference
Key returners: Stephen Hagewood (P); Jon Speight (P/1B/3B); Troy Cruse (2B); Ryan Chavis (C); Zach Berg (OF); Ronald Dombroski (3B/P); Hunter Gainey (OF); Brandon Fike (P); Calloway Strickland (OF); Gage Vass (OF); Jordan Vass (OF);
Newcomers: Coleman Ayers, Cole Decker, Spencer Gray, RJ Hall, Ty Hayward, Shelton Lewis, Chris Linger, Austin Skipper, Chase Stewart
Team strengths: pitching depth
Head Coach: Richard Foy
2015 record: 18-9 overall, 7-5 conference
Key returners: Caleb Bishop (LHP); Fulton Hill (OF); Lambert Long (SS); Adam Pecoraro (2B); Burke Estes (OF); Casey Miller (P)
Newcomers: Max Hildreth, Brett Kemp
Head Coach: Granville Gehris
Interim Head Coach: Chris Blake
2015 record: 25-3 overall, 10-2 conference
Key returners: Aaron Beach (OF); Sam Hall(SS); Chase Riker (2B); Josh Madole(1B/LHP); Cameron Kimrey (OF); Payton Rice (RHP); Austin Rodriguez(C); Bryce Cota;
Newcomers: Aidan Smith, Alex Holland, Jacob Luchansky, Colby Emmertz
Team strengths: athleticism, strength, team speed
Head Coach: T.J. Spivey (2nd season)
2015 record: 19-7 overall, 7-5 conference
Key returners: Hunter Ashburn (C); Tyler Stanley (CF); Austin Turner (RF/RHP); Tristan Lewis (SS); Zack Johnson (3B); Tyler McDuffie (OF); Jonathan Carlyle (P);
Newcomers: Owen McDaniel, Kevin Powers, Dylan Jeffries
Team strengths: varsity experience, team speed, defense
Head Coach: Mike Anderson
2015 record: 7-18 overall; 2-10 conference
Key returners: Mitch Harris; Caleb Clemmons; Tanner Coley; Mitch Harris; Andrew Phillips; Zach Kelly; Corey Entrekin; Josh Carter
Head Coach: Dustin Medlin (3rd season)
2015 record: 16-8 overall, 8-2 conferenceKey returners: Jaheed Cason (CF/P); Trenton Chasteen (C); Trey Parrish (SS); Landen Wright (LHP)
Newcomers: Cameron Fields (OF), Arthur Hayes (DH/LHP), Zach Walker (2B), Jayln Perkins (3B/SS),
Team strengths: versatile, team chemistry