The Hopewell and North Mecklenburg baseball teams will not be taking their spring break off. Instead, the two teams will travel to Charlotte to take part in the East Meck Spring Showcase.
They will be matched up against three teams in as many days as they prepare for the final stretch of the conference season.
Hopewell will face Weddington, Butler and Mount Pleasant.
The Titans got off to a 3-3 (through March 23) start under new coach Chet Greeson a year after taking the conference championship last year. The talented squad was ranked fourth in the Observer's preseason Sweet 16 poll.
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North Mecklenburg, which have won five of their last eight conference titles, have gotten the season off to a 7-2 (through March 23) start including a win over the No. 1 team in the Sweet 16, Ardrey Kell.
Like their cross-town rivals, the Vikings will play Mount Pleasant in addition to Independence and tournament host East Mecklenburg.
Hopewell and North Mecklenburg's toughest challenge at the tourney might come from the Mount Pleasant Tigers, which were ranked seventh in impactbaseball.com's preseason poll.
North Mecklenburg has been a major factor in ME-CA 7 conference baseball for most of the last decade. Now, the Vikings must find their place in the new I-Meck conference with the likes of Hopewell, Lake Norman, Mooresville and Mallard Creek, among others.
Belmont recruit Adam Venditti is the main force in the offense that is less experienced than it has been in the recent past. Like Butler and Mount Pleasant, the Vikings are using this tournament as a stepping stone for the rest of the season.
For the last two seasons, Hopewell has been the class of the ME-CA 7 with North Mecklenburg. Now, the Titans start anew in the I-Meck and with new head coach Chet Greeson.
Fortunately for Greeson, the team is full of talent. Junior pitcher Hunter Conley, who was all-state as a sophomore, headlines a veteran team that went 20-6 before losing in the second round of the playoffs last season. Hunter May, Keith Peterson, Keith Prowse, Michael Russell and Daniel Whitecavage are also players to watch.
Now, Greeson and company hope to take the next step in the postseason. The showcase should give Hopewell a good measuring stick to see how much progress they have made toward those goals.
No matter what the Tigers accomplish this season, likely the biggest hurdle they must overcome is within their own roster. Mount Pleasant depended on Garrett Furr on the mound and in the batter's box last year. Now that he has graduated, a veteran team must prove that they can win consistently without him. Grayson Atwood, Matt Barrier and Brandon Burris will be the most likely players to take over offensively with Corey Honeycutt expected to be the pitching staff ace.
This showcase could go a long way in proving to Mount Pleasant that they can compete with anybody in the state.
Like Mount Pleasant, Butler has spent the early part of their season trying to figure out how to play without their best player, all-state catcher Tyler Tewell, who graduated last year. The Bulldogs don't get much of a break, playing a challenging nonconference slate, before diving into what most would consider the best conference in the state in the Southwestern 4A (SW4A).
David Anderson and Brandon McWhirter are two of the most experienced players being counted on to lead the way this season.