Published: Mar 31, 2012 09:42 PM
Modified: Apr 02, 2012 04:39 PM
If theres one phrase repeated by every Tri-Nine Conference coach after every game this season, its: This conference is tough.
And just about halfway through the season, its also wide open.
The first- and seventh-place teams are separated by just three losses, and given the history of the conference, there is plenty of time for a lower-rung team to make a move. Current conference leader Middle Creek made a strong push after spring break last year to make the playoffs, winning 11 straight games to close out the season.
The Mustangs rang up their conference win streak to 12 on Tuesday with a defeat of Apex, but lost Tuesday in extra innings to Athens Drive and fell in a 10-run rule game Thursday to Fuquay-Varina. That turned the conference race on its head.
Theres so many great coaches, so many great players, said Middle Creek coach Jeremy Thompson.
Green Hope is tied with Middle Creek in the loss column and has a game in hand. The Falcons lost 8-0 to the Mustangs on March 16.
Apex has lost three conference games by a combined four runs.
Fuquay-Varina started the year ranked among the states top 10 teams, but its hitting has been slow to come around, according to coach Milton Senter.
I thought this year the pitching (in the Tri-Nine) might not be as good as it was last year, but it seems to be on par, said Senter. Its a brutal league.
Panther Creek is holding onto the fifth and final playoff spot from the Tri-Nine. In coach Daniel Halls first year, the Catamounts already have broken a school record for conference wins in a season and are two wins from breaking their record for overall wins in a year.
Defending state champion Holly Springs is breathing down PCs neck for the final spot, though the Catamounts won 7-0 in the teams March 2 meeting.
Lee, Cary and Athens Drive trail the others but have proven dangerous. Lee defeated Apex, while Athens upset Middle Creek.
Middle Creeks Jimmy Boyd leads the conference in triples (two) and Green Hopes Thomas Yoder leads in doubles (five).
Will Gilbert, a senior pitcher at Green Hope, leads the Tri-Nine in strikeouts (28). Big upcoming games:
April 10: Holly Springs at Panther Creek; April 13: Apex at Green Hope; April 17: Panther Creek at Apex; April 20: Green Hope at Fuquay-Varina; April 24: Middle Creek at Green Hope; April 27: Holly Springs at Fuquay-Varina; May 1: Middle Creek at Holly Springs; May 4: Apex at Middle Creek.All statistics listed as they have been reported to the News & Observer as of March 29.