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Thursday February 22nd, 2018 9:57PM

Baseball: Area teams hoping to build on strong showing from '17

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor

The 2018 baseball season has a lot to live up to in following 2017.

There were a few disappointments last year, but by and large it supplied some amazing moments, including a No. 3 seed winning its first-ever state title in North Hall, and some deep runs by other programs such as Stephens County, which made the Class AAAA quarterfinals. OK, there was just the one state title, but plenty of programs made impressive strides during the course of the campaign -- and now return many of the players that made those runs happen.

There were also several coaching moves, including for the champion Trojans, as well as the end of a gold-standard era at Buford. Banks County, Rabun County and White County will also be under new management in 2018. Meanwhile, five more programs will enter their second seasons under coach this campaign.

Northeast Georgia has grown accustomed to success at the highest levels of the sport, however, and this season could well be more of the same. How will our area teams fare in the coming spring? Read on and find out...

2018 AREA BASEBALL PREVIEWS

BANKS COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Peyton Hart, 1st season
-- REGION: 8-AA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 15-17, reached Sweet 16 Class AA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. RHP/UTIL Grant Rylee, Sr. RHP/INF CJ Thomas, So. RHP/OF Caden Cotton
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Leopards have a new head coach in Hart, who spent the last two seasons as an assistant at Franklin County, and they are coming off back-to-back playoff appearances after almost a decade without postseason play, so expectations are certainly set for Banks County. Yet the Leopards also know they must bring their 'A' game in every region contest considering they play in a league that features the 2017 Class AA runner-up Elbert County and two more Sweet 16 teams in Rabun County and Social Circle (which lost to eventual champ Jeff Davis). 

BUFORD
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Stuart Chester, 1st season, 23rd overall (585-128 record)
-- REGION: 8-AAAAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 20-15, reached Sweet 16 Class AAAAA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 5
-- KEY PLAYERS: P Ramsey David, P Sean Adams, Sr. 1B Noah Ledford, CF Austin Turner
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: How do you replace one of the most successful coaches in Georgia high school baseball? You go out and get one of the other most successful coaches in GHSA. Tony Wolfe groomed the Wolves into a state power over his 21 season in charge and then turned the reins over to Stuart Chester, who won six state championships with Cartersville. And now Chester will look to maintain Buford's success. The new coach will do so with a relatively inexperienced varsity squad that may go as its pitching dictates. David and Adams should be the foundation for Buford, while Garrett Glover will also be a key. Yet the Wolves will also look to some inexperienced arms to bolster the staff. Patrick Walker has had a great start behind the plate and will look to take over at catcher. Defensively Buford should be solid, featuring Grant James at shortstop position. Offensively, the Wolves will have great team speed and are capable of scoring plenty of runs.

CHESTATEE
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jon Brewer, 2nd season, 13-18
-- REGION: 7-AAAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 13-18, reached first round Class AAAA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 8
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. SS Joe Sutton (.485 batting avg. in 2017), Sr. CF Cooper Wilson (.425 batting avg.), Jr. 3B Will Cantrell (.325 batting avg.), Sr. C Micah Flannigan, Sr. RF Reggie James, Sr. LF Storm Yarbrough
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: After reaching the state playoffs for the first time in program history -- and returning plenty of experience from that team -- the War Eagles enter 2018 with high expectations. In fact, Chestatee returns almost its entire starting line-up intact while also adding some talented starters. The War Eagles expect to boast a deeper pitching staff than in 2017, aided by new pitching coach Luke Crumley, and an offense that can score more runs. That said, playing in Region 7-AAAA will provide the ultimate test, as state finalists Marist (Class AAAA state champ) and Blessed Trinity (runner-up), as well as state playoff team West Hall and White County, each feature plenty of returning talent. Brewer is also in his second season, meaning team and coach know each other well, generally a recipe for added success.

COMMERCE
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Steve Cotrell, 10th season, 140-113 record
-- REGION: 8-A
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 16-16, reached first round Class A Public playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 7
-- KEY PLAYERS: Jr. SS Chandler Martin, Sr. P/INF Charlie Ledford (2-2, 4.5 ERA, 49 IP), Jr. P Ty Davis (4.1 ERA - 37IP with 49Ks), Jr. INF Jacob Welch (.267 batting avg., 18 RBI), So. INF Colby Rogers (.280 batting avg.)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Tigers enjoyed some impressive moments in 2017 but will look to be more consistent in 2018. To do so, Commerce knows it must improve on the mound by throwing more strikes and cutting down on walks. Region 8-A will be a slog day-in, day-out -- just as it was last season. Yet the Tigers expect that, and with seven starters returning hope to take some big steps forward.

DAWSON COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Dwayne Sapp, 3rd season, 23rd overall (464-184 overall record)
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 21-10, Region 7-AAA runner-up, reached first round Class AAA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY PLAYERS: ​Sr. INF/P Conner Bearden (​.356 batting avg., 39 RBI; 5-3 record, 3.47 ERA​), Sr. SS/P Palmer Sapp (.444 batting avg., 5 HR, 29 RBI; 3-0, 3.13 ERA), Sr. 2B/P Nate Sorrells (.346 batting avg., 21 RBI), So. ​Hudson Sapp OF/P (.365 batting avg., 1 HR, 25 RBI; 1-0, 2.47 ERA)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: ​The Tigers will have to learn on the go this season thanks to fielding a relatively young squad, yet Sapp believes his team has the ability to compete in every contest and could develop into a force to be reckoned with. Dawson has gotten used to reaching the postseason over the last two campaigns, and Bearden, Palmer Sapp and Sorrells will be looked to for leadership and stability as the veterans from those runs.

EAST HALL
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Eric Fowler, 2nd season, 10-17
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 10-17
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 8
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. P/OF Luke Cooper, Sr. Levi Crocker P/OF, Jr. P/UTIL Trevor Rider, Sr. P/UTIL Trey Campbell, Sr. 1B/OF Tripp Rider, Jr. C Mike Matuska, Jr. P/3B Luke Holtzclaw
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Last season the Vikings battled inconsistency at the plate and a lack of pitching depth while fielding a roster that featured plenty of underclassmen. Fowler hopes to see his squad take big steps forward this campaign in both of those areas in 2018. East Hall should find out how far its come right out of the gates in taking on a schedule that includes playoff foes from a season ago in its first 10 games. Region 7-AAA won't be any easier, considering that the league features the defending Class AAA state champ (North Hall) and state quarterfinalist Greater Atlanta Christian.

EAST JACKSON
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Tedd Sims, 2nd season, 4-26
-- REGION: 8-AAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 4-26
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 5
-- KEY PLAYERS: So. C/OFJake Varner Soph, So. IF/P Caleb Adair Soph, Sr. P/IF Luke Hadden, So. IF/P Halton Hardy, So. OF/P Cole Sealey, So. P/OF Josh Compton
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: With a good nucleus of returners and some highly-anticipated newcomers, Sims believes his team can put itself in the state playoff hunt. The Eagles still feature plenty of youth, but it is a talented group, and with over half the line-up made up of returning starters there is reason for optimism in Commerce.

FANNIN COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jon Ayres, 3rd season, 29th overall (339-289 overall record)
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 15-15, reached first round Class AAA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 6
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. P Grant Baker, Sr. P/OF Garrett Rogers, Sr. C Jack Gobble, Jr. INF/P Chandler Kendall
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Rebels still have much of their squad intact from a strong 2017 campaign and will look to stay in the thick of the 7-AAA race. Last year's postseason run provided a boost that Fannin County believes it can ride into 2018.

FLOWERY BRANCH
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Joey Ray, 1st season, 10th overall (182-90 overall record)
-- REGION: 8-AAAAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 18-13, reached Sweet 16 Class AAAAA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 9
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. RHP/UTIL Preston Felt, Sr. LHP JC Sewell, Jr. RHP Zachary Wagner, Sr. INF Anthony Grutadaurio, Sr. INF/P AJ Gonzalez, Sr. RHP/OF Andrew Curtin, Jr. INF TJ Armstrong, So. LHP/OF/INF Zander Sechrist
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Falcons put together an impressive close to the 2017 campaign, which yielded a playoff series win. And with every standout from that team back on the roster, it's no wonder that expectations are running high indeed for the Branch in 2018. New head coach Ray helped build a state championship program at Milton (2013) and also finished as a state runner-up while winning five region titles before heading to Flowery Branch. Playing in a highly-competitive region that includes defending Class AAAAA state champ Loganville and Buford won't be easy, but the Falcons, who will actually play several younger players on top of the veterans this season, are pumped up for the opportunity.

GAINESVILLE
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jeremy Kemp, 10th season, 233-58 record
-- REGION: 8-AAAAAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 22-9, Region 8-AAAAAA runner-up, reached first round Class AAAAAA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 8
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. SS/RHP Banks Griffith, Sr. 3B/RHP Collier Scott, Sr. C Jared Smith, Sr. OF Charlie Wall, Jr. RHP Kyle York 
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Kemp believes this team has the potential to be another in a long list of great squads he's put together in his decade in charge of the Red Elephants. And though the end of that time may be drawing nigh, you can bet a squad loaded with veterans and talent will be focused on the season at hand. Gainesville grew by leaps and bounds last season and graduated just two seniors from that squad. Griffith, Scott, Smith, Wall and York should form a solid bedrock to lean on, while Cameron Wilson, Corbin Lindsay and Cale Conley are also returning starters. Adam Benefield (LHP), Jay Hinshaw (RHP), Jackson Kemp (DH) and Noah Bond (RHP/OF) also received significant playing time last season.

HABERSHAM CENTRAL
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Chris Akridge, 9th season, 71-140 record
-- REGION: 8-AAAAAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 14-16
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. CF Jarred Jones (2017 All-Region selection), Jr. INF/P Colby Jones, Sr. OF Hunter Ingle, Jr. INF Hogan Pitts, Jr. INF/P Peyton Irvin
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: After posting the most wins in a season in the past nine campaigns in 2017, the Raiders hope to keep the positive momentum moving. Akridge believes this team has plenty of potential despite replacing five starters. Stepping in will be a talented group of underclassmen, while Jarred and Colby Jones, Ingle, Pitts, and Irvin form the nucleus of the squad.

JACKSON COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jonathan Gastley, 2nd season, 10th overall (154-98 overall record)
-- REGION: 8-AAA 
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 18-14, reached first round Class AAA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 6
-- KEY PLAYERS: INF Spencer Starkweather, UTIL Zac Saine, C Logan Stockton, INF/RHP Tanner Crump, OF Reed Drake, 1B/RHP Grey Akins 1B/RHP
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Panthers have grown accustomed to the state playoffs, playing their way back in last season despite returning just three starters and undergoing a coaching change following a state semifinal run in 2016. The core of this season's team will also include OF/RHP Paul Foley and INF/RHP Walker Fryer, and with veterans on the roster, expectations will continue to run high for the Panthers.

JEFFERSON
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Tommy Knight, 15th season
-- REGION: 8-AAAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 16-14, reached first round Class AAAA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 6
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. P Patrick Hickox (7-5 record in 2017, 2.90 ERA), Sr. P Brandon Trefren (7-1, 1.90 ERA), Sr. OF Justin Cole (.314 batting avg., 8 doubles, 26 RBI, 19 SB), Sr. INF Billy Finch (.307 batting avg., 20 runs scored, 13 SB), Jr. P/C Lane Watkins (.300 batting avg., 4 HR, 4 doubles, 16 RBI), Jr. P/INF Zac Corbin (.290 batting avg., 6 doubles, 24 runs scored, 13  SB)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Dragons return plenty of talent from a team that competed step-for-step in a region that included to state quarterfinalists and a Sweet 16 program a season ago. Now Knight believes his team is ready to compete for a 8-AAAA crown. Hickox and Trefren have plenty of innings under their belt and will be the veteran arms, while Cole, Finch, Watkins and Corbin can swing the kind of bats that will keep them in contention all season.

JOHNSON
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jared Hodge, 5th season
-- REGION: 8-AAAAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 5-22
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 8
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. 3B/P Tim Smith (.300 batting avg., 18 runs scored), So. INF Tino Mukono (.266 batting avg., 10 RBI, 13 runs scored), Sr. OF/P Ben Head (.265 batting avg., 10 RBI, 16 runs scored)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Knights must find the arms to replace 129 1/3 innings pitched from last year. Johnson graduated a lot of senior pitching, and, although the Knights have quite a few returners from last year, they lost a lot of senior production at the plate and on the mound. Johnson is looking to grow into the season and have those younger players going full speed by the time a brutal Region 8-AAAAA schedule begins.

LAKEVIEW ACADEMY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Deuce Roark, 19th season, 231-242 record
-- REGION: 8-A
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 7-20
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 5 Seniors Evan Gravitt  P/INF, Ian Echols P/INF,  Andrew Estes  P/INF,  Sam Stewart P/C  Campbell Melson  P/1B look to solidify the Starting Rotation, JD Roark and Jordan Thomas along with the aforementioned pitcher position players look to provide the offense for Lakeview Academy
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. P/INF Evan Gravitt, Sr. P/INF Ian Echols, Sr. P/INF Andrew Estes, Sr. P/C Sam Stewart, Sr. P/1B Campbell Melson 
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Lions are looking to get back into the playoff mix this season thanks to a deep pitching rotation. Gravitt, Echols, Estes, Stewart, and Melson will all provide innings on the mound. Meanwhile, JD Roark and Jordan Thomas along with the aforementioned players will look to provide the offense for Lakeview Academy. The Lions feature a mix of older and younger players in 2018 and could be poised for a rebound campaign this season.

LUMPKIN COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Dustin Allen, 9th season, 97-101 record
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 7-21
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 12 players who started at least one game return
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr RHP Austin Black, Jr. LHP/OF Dalton Stephens, Jr. RHP/IF Matthew Grizzle, Jr. INF/RHP Jacob Martin, Jr. OF Conner Pierce, Jr. UTIL Braylen Chastain, So. UTIL Logan Choflet, So. INF/RHP Nick Turner, So. INF/RHP Dalton Caldwell, So. LHP/OF Tucker Kirk
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Last season was nowhere near what the Indians had in mind, and their struggles were not easy to endure. Yet the adversity has fueled Lumpkin County all off-season, and the Indians will enter 2018 determined to rebound. With so much experience at their disposal, the Indians will certainly like their chances to do just that dspite being in the rugged 7-AAA.

NORTH FORSYTH
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jim Cahill, 16th season, 237-183-1 record (277-204-1 overall record)
-- REGION: 5-AAAAAAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 9-21
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 8
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. 1B/RHP Kyle Martin, Sr. C Colin Sanders, Jr. OF Carter Mullikin, Jr. RHP Brody Westbrooks, Sr. OF Clayton Bardall, Sr. 3B/RHP Caelan Thomas, Sr. LHP Tyler Fairchild, Sr. LHP Brice Davis
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: After last season's playoff absence, the Raiders hope to get back to their winning ways in 2018. And a deep senior class may just have the make-up to lead a postseason run. Seniors Evan Johnson (3B), Tucker Daniel (RHP) and Ben Stanford (INF) will also play key roles for North Forsyth this season, while a pair of sophomore infielders -- Garrett Staton and Miles Hartsfield -- should also provide both depth and talent.

NORTH HALL
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Trevor Flow, 1st season
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 29-11, Class AAA state champions
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 2
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. P/3B Reese Olson (13-1 record in 2017; 1.40 ERA, AAA Co-Player of the Year), Sr. C Charlie Erickson, JR. OF Caleb Clark, Jr. OF David Seavey, Jr. OF/P Dylan Wiley, Jr. INF Caleb Wiley, Jr. INF/P Kelton Kieschnick
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Following last season's magical run to the program's first-ever state title, the Trojans are undergoing plenty of change in 2018. With seven new position players on the field and a new head coach, you might think North Hall was in a re-building position. Don't bet on it. The Trojans still have a star in Olson, and, after coaching the pitching staff to a team ERA of 2.23 over the last five seasons, promoted assistant Flow believes this team has depth comparable to the 2017 championship team. That's not to say the team is loaded with veterans, but after helping lead the Trojans to a 124-47 record the last five campaigns, Flow says the goal is to get back into the playoffs and says his team can compete with anyone. The Trojans will need to grow up in the field, though the outfield and catcher spots should be solid from the get-go. Sophomore Jackson Dyer (P/IF), Tyler Brooks (P/IF) and Caden Bales (C/IF/P) will also play key roles this season. Team speed will also be strength.

RABUN COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jack Lowry, 1st season, 6th overall (51-77 overall record)
-- REGION: 8-AA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 10-16, reached Sweet 16 of Class AA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 6
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. INF/P Chase Horton (.290 batting avg., 15 RBI; 2.60 ERA), Sr. C/1B Gavyn Jones (team-high .347 batting avg., 26 hits, 17 RBI), Sr. 1B/P Grayson Lane (1.55 ERA; .217 batting avg.), Sr. INF/P Johnathan Henson (.266 batting avg.), So. INF/P Clint Green, Jr. OF/P Cameron Lovell, Jr. P Keaton Beavers
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Lowry comes to Tiger from Telfair County, where he spent five seasons in charge, and he steps right into a situation that he believes can produce immediate results. Lowry has been impressed by the senior leadership on the team and believes it will mix well with hard-working underclassmen. That includes freshmen duo Brody Jarrard (INF/P) and Brady Wilson (C/1B). The Region 8-AA schedule will be tough, but Lowry is aiming to compete for a league crown.

RIVERSIDE MILITARY ACADEMY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Mike Hutch, 7th season, 29th overall, 62-68 record (492-356 overall record)
-- REGION: 8-A
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 4-16
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. LHP/OF Max Eggleston, Sr. RHP/OF Matthew Adams, Jr. OF/INF Thomas Olander, Jr. INF/C Greg Stroyne, Jr. OF Robert Redmond
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: With just two seniors on the roster, the Eagles know they will be relying on youth to an extent in 2018. Yet Hutch is hopeful that newcomers like Cullen Swink (So. RHP/INF), James Rainer (Jr. RHP/INF), Jesse Crandall (So. OF), Jameson Gibson (Jr. LHP/INF) and Ruben Davis (So. OF) will gel and help Riverside bounce back from a tough 2017 season.

STEPHENS COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Greg McCall, 5th season, 63-52 record
-- REGION: 8-AAAA
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 21-17, reached quarterfinals of Class AAAA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 8
-- KEY PLAYERS: Jr. P/INF Dawson Sorrells (2nd Team All-State as pitcher in 2017, 10-3 record, 1.90 ERA, 58 Ks in 77 IP), RHP Davis Swenson (8-2 record, 2.45 ERA, 64 Ks in 77 IP) Sr. RHP/3B Chaz Bridges, Jr. 2B Kole Rogers (.303 batting avg.), 1B Dawson Dean (.301 batting avg.), C Bryson Fowler (.293 batting avg.), OF Austin Page (.406 batting avg.)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Indians stormed down the stretch and into the postseason in 2017, and with five starting field players and three pitchers returning from that squad Stephens County enters 2018 with high expectations. Certainly Sorrells and Swenson provide two bedrock arms on which to build another strong campaign. Page, Rogers, Dean and Fowler also starred at the plate last campaign and will hope to continue their hot-hitting in 2018. Nothing will come easy in a Region 8-AAAA that includes Madison County (quarterfinalist in 2017), Oconee County (Sweet 16) and traditional power Jefferson (first round), but if Stephens County can stay healthy then the Indians figure to be right back in the mix.

TOWNS COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Shannon Floyd, 4th season
-- REGION: 8-A 
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 11-19, reached first round Class A Public playofs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: N/A
-- KEY PLAYERS: N/A
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Towns County put up a 7-5 record in a strong Region 8-A last season and will look to improve on that in 2018. 

UNION COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Robby Roxbury, 3rd season
-- REGION: 7-AAA 
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 10-16
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 7
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. 1B/RHP RJ Banton (3.83 ERA, 42 IP; .415 batting avg., 18 RBI), Sr. LHP/RF Cole Davis (29.1 IP), Jr. LHP Ean Harkins, So RHP Cayden Rich, Sr. SS Patrick Baggett (.376, 21 runs scored, 14 RBI), Sr. 2B Logan Dyer, Sr. 3B Crawford Colwell, Sr. CF Candler Colwell (.382 batting avg., 15 RBI, 16 runs scored)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Panthers are hoping to take a step forward in Roxbury's second season and may have the experience and depth to play themselves into the playoff hunt in Region 7-AAA. After graduating just two players from last season, Union County features a four-man pitching staff in Banton, Davis, Harkins and Rich. Banton is also a steady presence in the line-up, while Crawford Colwell is another cornerstone if he can play through injury. Other players expected to contribute this season include: Del Ruff (Sr. RHP), Hunter Kelley (Jr. OF), Alec Scott (Jr. C), Jackson Colwell (Jr. RHP) and and Coleson Daniel (Jr. 1B/RHP).

WEST HALL
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Chad Sage, 3rd season, 29-27 record
-- REGION: 7-AAAA 
-- 2017 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 12-16, reached first round Class AAAA playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 6
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. P/3B Jeffery Jenkins (Mercer commit, 1st Team All-State in 2017), Sr. SS/P Dylan Simpson, Sr. C/UTIL Carter Lott, Sr. CF/P Cameron Shirley, Jr. 1B/C Gabe Allison, Sr. 1B/3B Peyton Randozzo, So. OF/P Canaan Koger
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: After making the state playoffs for four straight seasons the Spartans have set a new standard and will work to keep that streak going in 2018. With five seniors on the roster there will be a learning curve. Coach Sage believes West Hall has plenty of potential, but adds that his Spartans will have to fill some holes from the previous years. Those positions will be filled by underclassmen. Yet Jenkins is a a great security blaket, and the veterans on the team are certainly used to winning.

WHITE COUNTY
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: James Waits, 1st season
-- REGION: 7-AAAA
-- 2016 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 4-22
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 3
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. UTIL/RHP Jordan Palmer, Sr. C/INF Weston Bray, Sr. OF Colby West, Jr. INF/RHP Austin Payne, So. INF/RHP Riley Norton, Fr. INF/OF/RHP J. Ben Haynes, Fr. INF/C Jake Brooks
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Warriors are looking to rebound in their first season under Waits after a tough 2017. Certainly there will be plenty of new faces on the field with just three starters returning. But as White County's football team showed earlier this season -- including freshman standout quarterback J Ben Haynes -- there are plenty of athletes on hand in Cleveland. They will face an uphill fight in a Region 7-AAAA that includes state champ Marist, runner-up Blessed Trinity and playoff teams Chestatee and West Hall.

*ABBREVIATION KEY: RHP (right-handed pitcher), LHP (left-handed pitcher), UTIL (utility), INF (infielder), OF (outfielder), C (catcher), P (pitcher), 1B (first base), 2B (second base), SS (shortstop), 3B (third base), LF (left fielder), CF (center fielder), RF (right fielder), ERA (earned run average), IP (innings pitched), Ks (strikeouts), HR (home runs), RBI (runs batted in), SB (stolen bases).

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The 2016-17 high school sports season brought us dizzying heights, gut-wrenching lows and everything in between...
4:48PM ( 7 months ago )