The Observer’s high school baseball preview continues from correspondent Jay Edwards with a look at teams in Alexander, Anson, Ashe, Avery, Richmond and Watauga Counties
Teams to Watch
Alexander Central: Coach Pete Hardee is proven winner (396 career wins) and has plenty of talent back from a 19-win squad last year. Seniors Zach Hammer (N.C. State), Justin Cook, and sophomore, Bryson Hammer (already has ACC interest according to Hardee) give the Cougars the pitching staff they need to contend in the Northwestern 3A/4A.
Richmond Senior: The Raiders return five starters from a 15-12 team, led by seniors, Jonathan Lee (UNC Pembroke signee), Justin Ingram, Drew Loving and Trey Watkins. Veteran Coach Ricky Young (336 career victories) believes the team can compete for a Sandhills’ 4A conference title and have the pitching staff to be a team no one wants to face in the playoffs.
Watauga: The Pioneers have struggled the last two seasons with just 14 wins combined. But Coach Seth Freeman believes this Watauga team will be much improved led by University of North Carolina commit, sophomore Travis Hamrick, and seniors Bryant Greene, Hayes Henderson and Jonathon McClannon.
Players to Watch
Zach Hammer, Alexander Central, Sr.: N.C. State signee can take over a game with his 93-mile per hour fastball, and looks to be even better than his 3-0 mark with a 2.70 ERA and 41 strikeouts as he leads a loaded, Alexander Central pitching staff.
Justin Cook, Alexander Central, Sr.: Cougars’ senior another big arm (2.21 ERA last year) and bat (.358) for a talented, Alexander Central squad.
Travis Hamrick, Watauga, So.: Pioneers’ standout committed to the University of North Carolina before his sophomore season of high school, which says a lot about his potential. Now, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Hamrick looks to live up to his billing with an 89 mph fastball and more.
Jonathan Lee, Richmond Senior, Sr.: UNC Pembroke signee, a left-hander, excels on the mound (1.32 ERA, 49 strikeouts) and at the plate (.266, two home runs, seven doubles, 19 RBI). Lee and senior right-hander Trey Watkins (7-3, 1.75 ERA) give Raiders a strong one-two punch on the mound.
Will Dagenhart, Anson County, Sr.: Bearcats’ senior hit .459 with five doubles last year and looks to be even more productive on a team with eight starters back.
Can’t Miss Games
Pinecrest at Richmond Senior, March 13: If the Raiders are going to be Sandhills’ 4A conference contenders, this mid-March series with Pinecrest will be huge. Richmond Senior also travels to Pinecrest, March 16.
Alexander Central at Lake Norman, March 21: This mid-March game pits two of the states’ best pitching staffs in what could be a preview of matchup deep in the 4A state playoffs.
Anson County at Mount Pleasant, March 21, 23: If Anson County wants to contend in the Rocky River conference, they will need to win at least a game or two in the series with the Tigers. Anson County also hosts Mount Pleasant, March 20.
Alexander Central at South Caldwell, April 10: The Northwestern 3A/4A conference title could very well come down to this early April game. Alexander Central hosts South Caldwell, March 9.
South Caldwell at Watauga, March 13; Watauga at Alexander Central, March 16: If the Pioneers are going to make a move in the NW3A/4A, this will be a huge week as they took two of the league favorites in back-to-back games.
- • Alexander Central baseball coach Pete Hardee is four wins away from his 400th career victory, which should come in early to mid-March, on a Cougar team with great expectations in 2018.
- • First-year Anson County baseball coach Zach Scoggins has eight starters back, as well as veteran coaching staff (Paul Currie, Kyle Eudy, Zach Caulder) giving him several reasons to believe the Bearcats can contend in the Rocky River conference.
Northwestern 3A/4A Conference
- 1. Alexander Central; 2. South Caldwell; 3. McDowell; 4. Hickory; 5. West Caldwell; 6. St. Stephens; 7. Watauga; 8. Freedom.
Rocky River Conference
- 1. Mount Pleasant; 2. West Stanly; 3. Anson County; 4. East Montgomery; 5. Forest Hills; 6. Central Academy.
Sandhills’ 4A Conference
- 1. Richmond Senior; 2. Pinecrest; 3. Purnell Swett; 4. Scotland County; 5. Jack Britt; 6. Lumberton; 7. Hoke County; 8. Seventy-First High.
**Ashe County and Avery County had not responded to requests for preseason information when this story was published.