The Observer’s high school baseball previews continue with a look at schools in Cabarrus County from correspondent Jay Edwards
Teams to Watch
Jay M. Robinson: The Bulldogs doubled their win total in Coach Ryan Hodges’ first-year at the helm from eight in 2016 to 16 wins last year. Jay M. Robinson returns five starters led by the senior trio of Noah Love (UNC Asheville commit), Chase Orrock (Southeastern Community College commit) and Jason White (Belmont Abbey commit), making them one of the favorites to win the South Piedmont conference (SPC) title.
Mount Pleasant: Mount Pleasant coach Justin Ridenhour also impressed in his first season in charge (18-8) and gets eight starters back this year, including five seniors. Reigning Rocky River conference player of the year Grayson Huneycutt (Pfeiffer University signee) will be the centerpiece of a veteran club with classmates Chance Daquilla (4-1, 2.88 ERA), Hayden Radford (.345), that should contend for the league championship and go deep into the 2A playoffs (3rd round last year) again.
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Hickory Ridge: Coach Branden Knapp and his Ragin’ Bulls’ team take on a new challenge in the Southwestern 4A (SW4A) conference. But, with six starters back (five seniors), including the senior trio of Blake Dockery (83 strikeouts, 3.16 ERA, N.C. State signee), R.J. Coard (.324, 26 stolen bases) and Michael Mutterer (.397, 19 stolen bases), Hickory Ridge believes it has the experience, speed and talent to contend in the SW4A and be a dangerous matchup in the 4A state playoffs.
A.L. Brown: The Wonders return four starters from a 20-win team that is moving back to class 3A (from 4A) and the all-Cabarrus County, SPC (from MECKA 4A conference). Veteran coach Empsy Thompson will need catcher Dylan Shubert and outfielder, Justin Rodgers to be leaders as a younger pitching staff grows up on the fly.
Cox Mill: Rookie head coach John McNeil (longtime East Rowan assistant) believes his first Cox Mill team can contend for an SPC title. The Chargers return four starters with seniors Justin Fox (.295), Matt Alderfer (3.1 ERA, 35 strikeouts), junior Michael Lewis (.344), and sophomore Chandler Riley (.292) giving them a good core to build around.
Players to Watch
Blake Dockery, Hickory Ridge, Sr.: N.C. State signee gets it done on the mound (83 strikeouts in 48.2 innnings, 3.16 ERA) and at the plate (.275) for a veteran team eager to prove itself in the SW4A conference.
Grayson Huneycutt, Mount Pleasant, Sr.: Pfeiffer signee, Rocky River player of the year also equally talented on the mound (6-2, 1.70 ERA) and at the plate (.388) for a Tiger team with big expectations.
Noah Love, Jay M. Robinson, Sr.: UNC Asheville commit has a big bat (.284/eight doubles) and a strong arm (4-0, 0.98 ERA) to play a lead role for the Bulldogs.
Chandler Riley, Cox Mill, So.: Chargers’ standout hit .292 and scored 19 runs as a freshman, now looks to even better with a year of experience and under the guidance of Coach McNeil.
Jake Rowden, Central Cabarrus, Sr.: Pfeiffer University commit was a major offensive weapon in 2017, hitting .310, with 12 doubles, 17 RBI and 18 runs scored. Now, he looks to be even better in 2018.
Dylan Shubert, A.L. Brown, Sr.: Wonders’ catcher will need to be big behind the plate and at the plate (.333) if A.L. Brown is going to be a factor in the SPC race.
Rohan Handa, Cannon School, Sr.: Yale University signee can hit (.338) and pitch (4-4, 2.49 ERA, 66 strikeouts in 51 innings) and will have to play a big role with teammate Brian McKinsey (Rochester commit, .339, six saves) for the Cougars to be competitive in a tough, CISAA conference.
Devin Faggart, Northwest Cabarrus, Sr.: Trojans’ senior centerfielder and Southeastern Community College commit, one of eight starters back on what should be much improved team (1-22 last year).
Carson Helms, Concord, Sr.: The Spiders’ leadoff hitter (.364, 17 runs) looks to be a spark a more experience team (six starters back) to more wins in 2018, after struggling to a 2-20 mark last year.
Can’t Miss Games
Carson at Mount Pleasant, February 28: The Tigers get a major test in their season and home opener against Carson, which has one of the best pitching staffs in the state.
West Rowan at Jay M. Robinson; March 5: The Bulldogs will find out just how good they are early in a week that features West Rowan (March 5), at Hickory Ridge (March 7) and at Carson (March 9).
Jay M. Robinson at Cox Mill, April 20: The Bulldogs and Chargers meet with one week left in the regular-season, where the SPC title could be at stake in this game.
Concord vs. A.L. Brown at the Kannapolis Intimidators’ Stadium: Whenever the Spiders and Wonders play in any sport it’s a big rivalry. It’s only fitting the regular season finale for both teams will be held in the Intimidators’ stadium, where more than bragging rights will be stake in the SPC battle.
Mount Pleasant at West Stanly, April 27: The final game of the regular season (also West Stanly at Mount Pleasant, April 24 and Mount Pleasant at West Stanly, April 25) will likely decide the Rocky River conference champion. Hopefully, it comes down to the series finale on the last day of the regular season (April 27).
- • First-year Cox Mill head coach John McNeil has a great pedigree after serving the last 15 years at East Rowan, including the past 11 years under Mustangs’ coach Brian Hightower. Now, McNeil will look to help build the Chargers into a consistent winner.
- • A.L. Brown baseball coach Empsy Thompson (19th year at A.L. Brown) helped his team to one of the state’s biggest improvements last going from 12 wins in 2016 to 20 victories a year ago in the brutal, MECKA 4A conference. Now, the challenge is to pull a similar run in the Wonders’ first year back in class 3A and the SPC.
- • Northwest Cabarrus has a chance to be much improved as they return eight starters from a team that went 1-22. Trojans’ coach, Joe Hubbard (27th year), has proven he knows how to win with 250 wins in his nearly three decades of coaching.
- 1. Charlotte Christian; 2. Charlotte Country Day; 3. Providence Day; 4. Covenant Day; 5. Cannon School; 6. Charlotte Latin.
Metrolina Athletic Conference (MAC)
- 1. SouthLake Christian; 2. Westminster Catawba; 3. Metrolina Christian; 4. Northside Christian; 5. Gaston Christian; 6. Gaston Day; 7. Hickory Grove; 8. Concord First Assembly.
Rocky River Conference
- 1. Mount Pleasant; 2. West Stanly; 3. Anson County; 4. East Montgomery; 5. Forest Hills; 6. Central Academy.
South Piedmont 3A Conference
- 1. Jay M. Robinson; 2. Cox Mill; 3. A.L. Brown; 4. Northwest Cabarrus; 5. Central Cabarrus; 6. Concord.