Robinson's title hopes rest on Koerner's arm

Fondly remembering Brody Koerner's freshman season, Jason Sarvis spoke of the right-handed pitcher's "electric fastball" and the big break on his curveball, unusual for a junior varsity player.

The Jay M. Robinson High varsity coach admits, however, that even he didn't know Koerner was going to be " this good."

"This good" refers to Koerner, now a senior, being good enough to sign a letter of intent to play at Clemson University next year.

He was the South Piedmont 3A Pitcher of the Year in 2011 and was named all-conference for the second straight season.

Robinson High's chances of competing for a league championship this year figure to rest on Koerner's right arm. With junior righty Phillip Perry, the Bulldogs may have the best starting pitching in the conference.

"(Koerner's) freshman year, he came in with a lot of raw talent," Sarvis said. "He had a couple of mechanical issues, but he got some help with that. He had a great sophomore year and busted onto the scene."

As a sophomore in 2010, Koerner struck out 83 batters in 50 innings. His one-hit shutout of Kannapolis A.L. Brown drew the attention of Wonders coach Empsy Thompson, who became Koerner's coach for the South Charlotte Panthers summer team.

Last season, Koerner struck out 108 and had an earned run average of 1.50 with a 6-3 record as Robinson finished 16-11 overall and 9-5 in the conference (tied for third). Perry was 5-2 with a 2.30 ERA.

The two of them alternate at third base when they're not pitching.

With a young team returning, Sarvis thinks the Bulldogs will have to play solid defense. It will start with junior shortstop Hunter Kocher.

The rest of the SPC

At Northwest Cabarrus, all-conference players Corey Seager (senior, SS), Weston Smith (senior, P/1B) and Tanner Bigham (junior, 2B, .411 batting average) are among six returning starters. Northwest (18-9, 12-2) will surely challenge to defend its regular-season conference crown despite losing its ace, Rob Bain, to Davidson College.

Smith will become the top starting pitcher, after a season in which he posted an 8-2 record with a 2.11 ERA. A two-time Louisville Slugger High School all-American, Seager was SPC Player of the Year in 2011 with a .519 average, 10 home runs and 28 runs batted in.

Hickory Ridge (15-3, 10-4) will also have a young team, but its junior varsity went 19-1 last year.

All-conference senior right-handed pitcher/infielder Blake Sides is one of the league's best all-around players. He hit .404 last season with 29 RBI and five homers; he also racked up a 7-2 pitching record with a 3.02 ERA.

Junior catcher Jake Barbee (.536 average, .786 slugging percentage) also had an all-conference season. Parker Henderson (junior, OF) hit .450 on the JV team and is expected to make an impact with his bat.

Defending tournament champion Mount Pleasant (19-7) lost five players who will play collegiately this year. Returning for the Tigers are Jake Kimble (senior, SS), four-year starting catcher Wesley Hammill and junior leftfielder Nick Coble.

Junior Jacob Warner, who missed last year due to injury, and sophomore Ryan Ross, both lefties, will lead a young pitching staff.

Cox Mill (11-15, 5-9) is showing great potential, having reached the state playoffs in just its second year.

Travis Watkins (senior, C, .408 BA, 21 RBI) is a two-time all-conference player who has signed with East Carolina. Austin Fox (sophomore, IF/P, .500 BA) was all-conference as a freshman. Austin Mace (senior, CF) is strong offensively (.365 BA, 27 RBI) and defensively.

Central Cabarrus (10-14, 5-9) has a new coach in former American Legion Post 51 leader Ronnie Bost.

The Vikings' key returning players are juniors Garrett Freeze (P/OF, 45 strikeouts) and Quinton Covington (OF, .300 BA) and sophomore Andrew Burgesser (P/3B, .349 BA).

Concord (10-13, 4-10) has the current coach of Concord's American Legion Post 51 team, Jaymie Russ, as its new coach. Senior Ryan Burris (P/IF), an all-conference player, and juniors Parker Swaringen (P/IF), Colby Readling (SS), Joseph Thacker (P/1B) and Mike Bodsford (OF) are the Spiders' top players.

At A.L. Brown High (6-19, 2-12), senior Caleb Jackson, a shortstop with good range, and Eldon Peters, a pitcher/outfielder who had a solid sophomore season last year, will lead a team stocked with 14 juniors.

China Grove Carson (16-9, 11-3) followed its second-place finish in the North Piedmont 3A with a first-round state playoff win over Mount Pleasant. Notable veterans for the Cougars are shortstop Josh Martin and outfielder K.J. Pressley, both all-conference players.

South Rowan (11-12, 7-5), like its NPC rival Carson, was knocked from the state playoffs by Charlotte Catholic. Matt Miller (senior, P/OF, .333 BA, 48 K in 43 IP) and Eric Tyler (junior, C, .359 BA, 14 RBI) both return as all-conference players, as does Parker Hubbard, a senior defensive specialist in the infield.

Concord First Assembly (13-11, 8-6) looks to build on its momentum after earning its first state tournament bid since 2003. Seniors Jonathan Martin (P/1B, .409 BA, 6 HR) and Gabe Sites, a catcher who yielded no stolen bases last year, lead the Eagles. Other key returners are freshman shortstop Ryan Kirk, who started as an eighth-grader, and sophomore Griffin Love (OF, .330 BA).

Cannon School (4-17, 1-11) will try to avoid a second straight season in the cellar of the Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association. Matthew Randolph was the Cougars' top pitcher as a freshman last year. Seniors Connor Lippincott, an all-conference catcher, and power-hitting outfielder Scott Krusell also return.