Published: Feb 26, 2012 03:44 PM
Modified: Feb 26, 2012 04:46 PM
The Tri-Nine Conference had a strong argument as the best baseball conference in the state last year.
That tends to be the case when the 4A champ comes from your conference, multiple players go on to Division I baseball and even teams that got shut out of the state playoffs dominated their non-conference competition.
The Tri-Nine should be tough again but perhaps for different reasons. Scores were kept low last year as seven teams boasted future Division I pitchers, including two MLB draft picks. But many of those pitchers are gone, and maybe it's time the sluggers had their turn.Tri-Nine previewHolly Springs (24-2):
The defending state champ graduated several players who made that run possible, including state player of the year Carlos Rodon. But there is plenty of talent returning for coach Rod Whitesell.
Senior catcher Joey Roach, who hit .404 last year as the leadoff hitter, returns, as does his twin, third baseman Mike Roach, first baseman Austin Dickson and shortstop A.J. Sconzo.Athens Drive (15-7-1):
The Jaguars lost both starting pitchers and have a new coach in Ryan Westbrook, but almost everyone else returns.
The Jags also boast the only returning first-team all-conference selection in third baseman/pitcher Patrick Graham (.449 batting average, four home runs). Patrick Mason (.418), also a senior, will catch.Green Hope (14-9):
The Falcons return hard-throwing lefty Will Gilbert (6-1 record), an N.C. State recruit, as well as five of its usual starters in the field. Senior Smith Prevost and sophomore shortstop Stephen Pitarra (.341) are two of five batters returning to the lineup.Fuquay-Varina (17-9):
It's the Bengals, not the three teams who finished ahead of them in the Tri-Nine a year ago, who start this season ranked in Impact Baseball's top 10. The reason has as much to do with the players coming back as the talent moving up from junior varsity.
During the scholastic summer league, Fuquay's varsity and junior varsity teams met in the semifinals.Senior outfielder Addison Braswell and junior centerfielder Garrett Suggs, both returning second-team all conference selections and both committed to N.C. State, are among seven bats returning to the lineup.Middle Creek (14-11):
Jimmy Boyd (8-3, 2.72 ERA) is a four-year starter for the Mustangs who figures to be one half of a 1-2 pitching punch with junior lefty Graham Edwards (9-4, 2.18 ERA).
Junior outfielder Keenan Herring is one of the few returning Middle Creek bats in the lineup.Lee County (10-14):
The Yellow Jackets, led by one of the state's most respected coaches in Charlie Spivey, just missed a playoff spot last year. They return pitcher Zach Furl, among others.Apex (8-13):
The Cougars return most of their team, including seniors Matt Tenuta (4-2, 3.30 ERA), Austin Debevec and Keaton Oaks. Tenuta, committed to N.C. State, had 48 strikeouts in 44 innings.Panther Creek (6-15-1):
PC welcomes new coach Daniel Hall this season, as the Catamounts return starting pitchers Daniel D'Elia and Nathan Harris. Gardner-Webb recruit Thomas Young could also see action on the mound this year.Cary (4-16): The Imps enter their first full season under coach Brian Yerger. Cary's Tony Sanchez, a shortstop, leads a group that started mostly juniors and sophomores last year.