It's not often that two All-American-caliber players hit the field for the same high school baseball team. But for Northwest Cabarrus, thanks to senior shortstop Corey Seager and junior second baseman Tanner Bigham, that's a reality.
"It's a luxury," said Northwest Cabarrus baseball coach Joe Hubbard. "Most places don't have an SEC and ACC signee playing up the middle for you."
Seager, who has signed to play at South Carolina, and Bigham, who has committed to play at North Carolina, headline a Trojan team that is ranked No. 4 in Impact Baseball's 3A preseason poll.
Having played together all of last year, the duo has developed chemistry that should allow them to lead the team with skill and experience.
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"They have a good idea of what they'll need to do for this team to succeed," said Hubbard.
But Northwest Cabarrus is hardly a two-man team
Pitcher Weston Smith, third baseman Jarrin Hogue as well as catchers Grayson Miller and Landon Hubbard also return from last season's team.
Coach Hubbard said Evan Holub and Ryan Keziah as well as Jordan Goodman, who hasn't played his first two years of high school because of ACL injuries, have also looked good early on.
But the 6-foot-4 Seager knows his team has a long way to go.
"We can get better everywhere," he said . "We have to get smart and not make stupid mistakes."
Bigham, 6-feet tall, agreed, adding that the team needs to continue to come together to reach its peak later in the year.
"It's all about playing your best baseball at the end of the season," said Bigham.
Smith will anchor the pitching staff, taking over for last year's top thrower, Davidson pitcher Rob Bain.
"He's going to be a good one," said Coach Hubbard. "He's going to be the one that we depend on when he steps on the mound. We're going to need him to win."
The coach added that they should have a deep rotation, although who will start is still up in the air. He said this week's non-conference schedule, which includes Carson, Myers Park and South Rowan, is important in putting together that rotation.
"It'll give us an opportunity to see a lot of arms, trying to see everybody and give us some insight into what we're going to do when conference comes around the next week," said Hubbard.
This year will mark the first time that North Carolina high school teams will play with BBCOR bats, which, for safety issues, are designed to slow down how fast the ball comes off the bat. Hubbard said the bats, which caused an average decrease of 1.4 run per game and cut home runs nearly in half when first used collegiately last year, should make a big impact.
"We've barreled a lot of balls," he said. "I've seen kids hit some balls that you thought were in the gap, but just hang up and don't go that far."
The change should make pitching and base running big keys this year.
Hubbard said his players and coaching staff will have to go through a learning curve, but so will everyone else.
"You have to know your team well enough, what can and can't happen when they step up to the plate," he said.
Hubbard and his Trojans have high expectations.
"Every time I step on the field, I expect to be playing in June," said Hubbard. "That's my goal. If it wasn't, you'd need to find someone else to coach this team."
Bigham, 17, said he enjoys playing under that kind of pressure.
"Being expected to win is a nice feeling; You don't want to be expected to lose," said Bigham. "We've handled it pretty good the last couple of years."
Northwest has struggled in the postseason lately, failing to get past the second round of the playoffs the last two years. But Seager and his teammates are using that as motivation.
"I feel like we came up a little short last year," the 17-year-old said. "We're ready to fix that."
The main goal now is to also get a "three-peat," to earn the third straight regular-season South Piedmont Conference title.
The Trojans know winning a title in the competitive Cabarrus County league will not be easy.
Hubbard said Jay M. Robinson should be the SPC favorites, returning Clemson signee Brody Koerner and Philip Perry on the mound.
Hickory Ridge and Mount Pleasant also return talent. A sleeper could be Cox Mill, which has an experienced core of players who have helped build up the third-year program.
Hubbard said his team will have to work hard to finish the season atop the SPC standings.
"Hopefully we'll go to work. You can't rest on the laurels of the last couple of years," he said.
"The only thing is that it makes you a target. People are going to bring their A-game when they play you."