For the last two decades, Bryan Tyson has been building baseball programs in Cabarrus County.
This season, Mount Pleasant's manager says he is more excited than he has been in a long time.
"Everyone is excited about playing in an All-Cabarrus County league, it's been a long time coming," said Tyson, who coached the Tigers the past three seasons after coaching at Central Cabarrus for 17 seasons. "I think it is great for our league, our sports and the rivalries that make this so fun to play."
But while the Tigers are anxious to play in the SPC, it won't be easy as Mount Pleasant will have to adjust to the move into class 3A from 2A.
"I think you are really going to have to come to play every night," Tyson said. "On paper, the league looks pretty even."
Mount Pleasant (6-2 ) appears to be the favorite as the Tigers are were ranked No. 7 in the state in the preseason polls (impactbaseball.com) with a veteran cast of players returning from last year's 25-8 team that got all the way to the state semifinals.
But before the Tigers get to the meat of SPC play, Mount Pleasant will play Butler, North Mecklenburg and Hopewell in three days in the East Meck Spring Break Showcase.
"We want to go out and play as well as we can and play good people," Tyson said of his team at the Showcase. "Whether we go 0-3 or 3-0, I think it will make us better in the long run."
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 Furr. 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.
The opening game (in the Round Robin format) against Mount Pleasant should be tight and could set the tone for both teams for the rest of the week.
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.