Published: Mar 08, 2011 09:05 PM
Modified: Mar 08, 2011 09:05 PM
To see the strength of this year's area baseball teams, look no further than the list of those who have received athletic scholarships.What you'll see there are a number of pitchers. Almost every team has an ace it can put on the mound and feel confident in its chances of winning.Last year six Tri-Nine teams reached the playoffs. Half of those were ousted by another Tri-Nine team in the second or later playoff rounds. Holly Springs (19-6):
Senior Carlos Rodon was an All-State pitcher in 2010 with a 10-1 record and 129 strikeouts.
Justin Manning was 5-2 with a 2.50 earned run average. Both hit above .300 during their junior campaigns and both are signed to play in college.
Manning is headed to UNC-Wilmington next year as a catcher, while Rodon may have to choose between his commitment to N.C. State and whatever MLB team drafts him.
Also signed to play in college is outfielder Jesse Sykes (Appalachian State). The Hawks also return second-team all-conference selection Joey Roach.
The Golden Hawks, ranked No. 4 in the state among 4-A teams to start the year, might contend on the state level, but the Tri-Nine is one of the toughest conferences in the area. Last year they were undone in the third round by Apex.Middle Creek (19-7):
The Mustangs are led by versatile junior Jimmy Boyd. Boyd is the team's No. 1 starting pitcher, but he can also play infield or outfield. He was an All-State pick in 2010 for his hitting prowess.
Also returning for the Mustangs are Barton College recruit J.T. Virant, Seth Watkins, Ben Brown and Britt Cherry.Athens Drive (18-8):
The Jaguars are led on the mound by Chris Williams, also an N.C. State recruit.
Williams posted a 1.59 earned run average in 2010 and threw two one-hitters.
Ben Snotherly is likely to take over the other starting pitcher spot, where he threw a no-hitter last year. The Jags also return second-team all-conference selection Patrick Graham.Green Hope (13-11):
The Falcons' leading pitcher is 6-foot-8 Max Povse, a right-hander capable of throwing about 90 mph. Povse, a UNC-Greensboro recruit, has a no-hitter in his career.
Returning hitters include Anthony Colantino, who hit .417 last year, and Will Yoder, who hit .419.
Junior Will Gilbert will be the Falcons' second starter.Apex (14-12):
The Cougars barely made it into the playoffs as a wild-card team.
But in the state playoffs, Mike Valder's squad caught fire - which is starting to become an Apex tradition.
Apex lost in the state quarterfinals, but it was their fourth straight year of making it to at least the third round.
Apex lost to Lee County, the Tri-Nine's fifth-seed, on a walk-off home run in that fourth-round game.
Second baseman Nick Smith is back as Apex's leading returning hitters, while senior Dylan Edwards moves from the bullpen to the starting rotation.
Matt Tenuta, a left-handed pitcher, is a transfer with a big-time reputation. Camby Abell was 3-0 as a freshman starter last year. Junior catcher Keaton Oaks also returns.Fuquay-Varina (11-13):
Unlike the rest of the Tri-Nine, Fuquay's strength was its hitting.
Senior Travis Long and Austin Yarborough will be counted on to give the team a boost on the mound. Long was all-conference and team MVP in 2010.
Addison Braswell, Garrett Suggs and Zach Orrison return to a potent Bengals lineup.Cary (7-14):
The Imps have a new head coach - but not the one you may think. Cary first hired Joe Lapp during the offseason to replace Matt Warden, then replaced Lapp with Michael Sasscer before the school year began.
Tony Sanchez, Tyler Lapp and Tommy Robinson lead the team's returning players.Others to watch for: Max Schrock, Cardinal Gibbons:
The junior shortstop led the Crusaders in most offensive categories the last two years. Schrock is a University of South Carolina recruit.