After a slow (8-8) start last season, Northwest Cabarrus exploded winning 13 of their last 15 games to win the South Piedmont Conference regular season and tournament championships.
Since then, the Trojans have stayed on top, being in first-place in the conference at 10-2 (5-1 as of March 31) midway through the season.
"The SPC has definitely become one of the most competitive leagues in the state," said Northwest Cabarrus baseball coach Joe Hubbard. "Every game is a natural rivalry, and I think that makes each game tough. You have to come out strong in every game or you'll probably lose."
Six of the eight teams in the SPC are packed up near the top with Northwest, and one of them is Central Cabarrus, which might be the most improved team in the conference.
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The Vikings, which were 8-16 last year, have matured. Central (8-3, 4-3 as of March 31) already has as many victories as last season.
"Last year was tough, we had to take our lumps and learn a lot," said Viking coach Jim Knight. "This year, we have benefited from those experiences and we are finding ways to battle, finding ways to win."
Friday night will be a big game for both teams. The Trojans will look to hold onto the top spot on their home turf, while Central Cabarrus hopes to crawl back up the SPC standings with a big road win.
Northwest Cabarrus is again loaded with talent this season. Their top pitcher, Davidson signee Rob Bain, should be on the mound Friday, which always gives them the best chance to win.
Bain, who was 4-0 on the mound (through March 31), is the reigning SPC Pitcher of the Year and a crafty lefty who uses control and location rather than speed to dominate opposing batters.
"Good pitching always beats good hitting, so far that is how we have won games," said Hubbard.
While the Trojans' pitching has been their strength, their offense could be one of the best in the league when it fully comes to life.
Sophomore Tanner Bigham, who recently committed to North Carolina, sets the table as the leadoff hitter and is hitting over .400 on the year.
Meanwhile, junior Corey Seager is just starting to get back into top form this season as one of SPC's most talented players.
The Trojans have also gotten strong contributions from pitcher Weston Smith and right-fielder David Broome. Both could be a factor against Central.
Northwest Cabarrus is looking to repeat as SPC regular season and tournament champions, and Friday's game is another critical game and series in their quest.
Central Cabarrus hopes to get a big momentum boost by stealing a game from Northwest on the road.
Senior shortstop Brandon Porter will be a big key. as he is still red-hot, batting over .600 with five home runs and 19 RBI on the season.
Porter has a lot of support from classmates Ryan Yoder, the team's No. 3 hitter, and Jordan Pridgen. Both are hitting above .400.
The Vikings pitching has been solid, but a bit inconsistent so far. Central will likely throw sophomore Garrett Freeze on the mound against Northwest. Freeze has the stuff to be dominant, as evidenced by his no-hitter against Hickory Ridge earlier this season. The Vikings do have depth on the mound with juniors Jordon Bruce and Michael Hartsell as well as freshman Andrew Burgesser available when needed.
Knight and the Vikings want to prove they are a contenders in the SPC. Friday night will give them a great chance to make a statement to the rest of the league.