The Observer’s high school baseball previews continue with a look at Cleveland County from correspondent Jay Edwards
Teams to Watch
Crest: The reigning 3A state runner-up is loaded with experience and talent as seven starters, including five seniors return from the 22-win team. Crest coach Steven Hodge will look to seniors Riley Cheek (Charlotte 49ers’ commit), Nick Melton (Queens University commit) and Luke Scism (Wake Tech commit) to lead a veteran club. While the Chargers will have a new challenge win the Big South conference, this senior class wants nothing less than another shot to win the 3A state championship.
Kings Mountain: The Mountaineers return four starters, led by seniors Daniel Bagwell (Queens University signee) and Alec Bell (Wake Tech signee) and juniors David Bell and John Harmon Melton. Coach Matt Bridges and company have the talent to compete in the Big South conference, but will some younger players to step up to be in the thick of the league race.
Shelby: After winning six games combined in 2015 and 2016, Coach Chris Emery and company were much improved last year at 9-14. Shelby will look to continue that momentum in the new Northwest Foothills’ 2A conference with seniors Will Stites, Bailey Proctor and Josh Smith leading the charge.
Players to Watch
Riley Cheek, Crest, Sr.: Charlotte 49ers’ commit, all-state outfielder/shortstop/pitcher does everything well, batting .400 with five home runs, while going 9-3 on the mound with five complete games last year (throws 86 miles per hour).
Nick Melton, Crest, Sr.: Queens University commit another key player on both offense (.380 batting average) and defense (shortstop/pitcher) for a loaded, Crest lineup.
Will Stites, Shelby, Sr.: Golden Lions’ senior will need to be strong at the plate (.343 last year) and on the mound (left-handed pitcher) for Shelby to be a factor in SW2A conference.
Daniel Bagwell, Kings Mountain, Sr.: Queens University signee (four saves last year) is back to lead a Mountaineer pitching staff that will need to be strong in the Big South conference.
Daniel Putnam/Alex Pendleton, Burns, Sr. (both): Bulldogs’ senior leaders in Pendleton (Pfeiffer signee, pitcher/outfielder) and Putnam (Lenoir Rhyne signee, shortstop) will need to big at the plate and on the mound for Burns to be competitive in Big South conference.
Can’t Miss Games
Shelby at Crest, March 7: Arch rivals no longer in the same conference, but Cleveland County,bragging rights still mean a lot to the Chargers, Golden Lions and the fans for each team.
Burns at Kings Mountain, March 20: This early season, Big South conference battle will set the tone for both teams are they jostle for position in a league where you can’t overlook anyone and must take advantage of each opportunity.
North Gaston at Crest, April 20: The Big South conference title could be on the line in this game with one week left in the regular season.
Shelby at South Point, April 27: This game also should have a big impact on the SW2A standings and postseason position.
Crest at Kings Mountain, April 27: The final game of the regular season for both Cleveland County rivals will have Big South conference title, conference tournament and playoff-seeding implications.
- • Crest is loaded with veteran talent, but they also started two freshman last year in left fielder Riley Cash and second baseman, Michael Greene, which should make a stronger, Charger lineup even stronger in 2018 and going forward.
- • After seven years as a Burns’ assistant baseball coach, Alex Leonhardt is now the Bulldogs’ coach. The 1994 Burns’ graduate has experience and talent with six starters back, but life won’t be easy in the newly organized, but still brutal, Big South conference.
Big South 3A Conference
- 1. Crest; 2. North Gaston; 3. Kings Mountain; 4. Forestview; 5. Stuart Cramer; 6. Burns; 7. Ashbrook; 8. Hunter Huss.
Southwestern 2A Conference
- 1. East Rutherford; 2. R.S. Central; 3. South Point; 4. East Gaston; 5. Shelby; 6. Chase.