The Observer’s high school baseball preview continues with a look at teams in Gaston County, as compiled by Observer correspondent Jay Edwards
Teams to Watch
South Point: The Red Raiders return four starters from a 23-win team that was co-Big South champions with North Gaston. Now, Coach Jason Lineberger’s 2018 squad takes on a new challenge in the new Southwestern 2A conference. This South Point team has plenty of experience and talent -- headlined by seniors, Ben Bowman (Pfeiffer signee), Ethan Shell (2017 Big South conference player of the year), Scottie Lee (Mars Hill signee), Evan Mauldin (Appalachian State signee) – to contend for a SW2A title and be a factor deep into the 2A state playoffs.
North Gaston: The Wildcats had a season to remember going when it tied for the Big South conference title with South Point. But a first round playoff loss to East Rowan left a bad taste in their mouths to finish 2017. Now in 2018, the same loss serves as motivation for a North Gaston team with their entire starting lineup back, led by seniors Austin Primm (Appalachian State signee), Austin Mitchell (Wingate signee) and Dalton Williams (Appalachian State signee). While the Wildcats hope to contend in the newly organized Big South again, they also hope to make a deep run into the 3A state playoffs.
Cherryville: The Ironmen also had a great regular season run, winning the South Piedmont 1A conference (SPC 1A, co-champions with Lincoln Charter) before falling flat in a 6-0 first round playoff loss to West Columbus. This year, Coach Scott Heavner and company look to stay on top of the league standings and go deeper into the playoffs and have an experienced group back to try to accomplish those goals, led by senior Jonathan McSwain and juniors Jared Emory and Levi Kiser.
Forestview: The Jaguars were up and down last year, going 11-13 overall, including an 8-1 1st loss to West Rowan to end their season. This year, Coach Brian Horne hopes to be more consistent with seven starters returning, led by seniors Jason Odem (Piedmont, GA, University signee) and Dakota Caughey (Pfeiffer University signee). Forestview has the experience to be a factor in the brutal Big South conference and into the postseason.
Highland Tech: The Rams return six starters, including four seniors from a team that went 15-9 in 2017. This season, seniors Taylor Hughes and Landon Burr look to help Highland Tech remain in contention in the SPC 1A and make a playoff run.
Bessemer City: The Yellow Jackets will have the luxury of getting seven starters back in the lineup from a year ago. Bessemer City will lean on seniors Wesley Summey (Surry Community College commit), Jakob Moss (Surry CC commit) to stay in the SPC 1A race and in favorable playoff position.
Players to Watch
Ethan Shell, South Point, Sr.: Reigning Big South conference player of the year does everything well, hitting .337 with 24 RBI, 20 runs scored, while boasting a 1.24 ERA in 62 innings of work last year. This year, Shell will look to prove he can be the top player in a new league (SW2A), while helping South Point into position to play for championships (conference, region, state).
Austin Primm, North Gaston, Sr.: Appalachian State signee is one of 9 starters back on a North Gaston team loaded with talent and motivation in 2018, after a first round playoff loss ended a strong season in 2017.
Jared Emory, Cherryville, Jr.: Cherryville senior hurler (7-1, 2.00 ERA) is a major part of strong Ironmen pitching staff with Jonathan McSwain (1.45 ERA, two saves) and Brent Walls (5-0), who will try to make life very difficult for opposing offenses.
Wesley Summey, Bessemer City, Sr.: Surry Community College commit had an all-state season last year, batting .403 with eight doubles, 28 RBI and also went 3-2 on the mound with a 3.74 ERA and 54 strikeouts and looks to be even more productive across the board in 2018.
Taylor Hughes, Highland Tech, Sr.: Rams’ standout will look to do it all again, after hitting .306, while also going 7-1 on the mound with 0.14 ERA and 34 strikeouts last season.
Jason Odem, Forestview, Sr.: Piedmont University (GA) signee hits for average (.359) and power (one home run, seven doubles, 12 RBI) and will need to play an even bigger role this season.
Jacob McCray, Ashbrook, Sr.: Green Wave standout will look to get it done behind the plate (catcher) and at it (.297 with four doubles last year) again in 2018.
Xavier Swann, Hunter Huss, Sr.: Catawba Valley Community College commit will be one of Huskies best offensive weapons, batting .308 last year.
Josh Jolly, East Gaston, Sr.: Warrior’ senior outfielder also team’s best returning hitter at .324 last season.
Can’t Miss Games
Cherryville at North Gaston, February 28: The Ironmen and Wildcats will waste no time in finding out how strong their teams are in the season opener for both teams.
Gaston Christian at SouthLake Christian, March 8: The Eagles get a major road test in week two of the season against the Metrolina Athletic conference (MAC) favorite, which should give them a good measuring stick early on in the season or could give them a huge momentum boost with a win.
East Rutherford at South Point, March 29; R.S. Central at South Point, April 10: Both of these Red Raiders’ home games, sandwiched around Spring Break, will be critical if South Point wants contend for the new, SW2A title. South Point also will have big opportunities on the road in the same series, as they travel to East Rutherford March 27 and to R.S. Central April 13.
Cherryville at Lincoln Charter, April 10; Lincoln Charter at Cherryville, April 13: The 2017 SPC 1A co-champions meet in a series coming off Spring Break that could decide the league champion again in 2018 and will also have an impact on postseason seeding.
Gaston Christian at Gaston Day, April 10: Battle for Gaston County private school supremacy is about more than bragging rights, also a critical conference matchup late in MAC regular season.
North Gaston at Forestview, April 13: If Forestview is going to be a factor in the Big South Conference race, they will have to hold serve against some of the league’s team teams at home.
North Gaston at Crest, April 20: The Big South conference championship could come down to this late April Friday night battle with one week remaining in the regular season. North Gaston also hosts Crest March 20.
Bessemer City at Highland Tech, April 20: This late season SPC 1A battle will be critical in the league standings with just a week left in the regular season.
- • Gaston Day baseball baseball coach, Chris Carrara, a three-time all-Big South conference pick at Winthrop University (2005 Big South champions) and second-team, All-American (ABCA) is now trying to build a consistent winner with the Spartans.
- • Cherryville sophomore pitcher, Brett Walls, was nearly unhittable as a freshman, going 5-0 on the mound with 0.41 ERA, allowing opponents to a .138 batting average. Now, Walls hopes to be even better as a sophomore, which won’t be easy to accomplish with the numbers he posted last year.
- • Piedmont Charter Community Charter baseball coach, Bill Willis, takes on his first head coaching baseball job and a rebuilding job, inheriting an 0-22 team.
- • Mountain Island Charter coach, Raikes Bennett, and his Raptor squad have improved going from 2-16 in 2016 to 6-14 last year, and hope to take another big step in the right direction in 2018. Bennett and company returns their entire roster, will have a J.V. team for the 1st time in school history, and look to be a factor in the new, PAC 7 (1A) conference.
Big South 3A Conference
- 1. Crest; 2. North Gaston; 3. Kings Mountain; 4. Forestview; 5. Stuart Cramer; 6. Burns; 7. Ashbrook; 8. Hunter Huss.
Metrolina Athletic Conference (MAC)
- 1. SouthLake Christian; 2. Westminster Catawba; 3. Metrolina Christian; 4. Northside Christian; 5. Gaston Christian; 6. Gaston Day; 7. Hickory Grove; 8. Concord First Assembly.
Piedmont Athletic Conference 7 (PAC 7) 1A Conference
- 1. Pine Lake Prep; 2. Queens Grant; 3. Union Academy; 4. Community School of Davidson; 5. Mountain Island Charter; 6. Bradford Prep; 7. Carolina International.
South Piedmont 1A Conference
- 1. Lincoln Charter; 2. Cherryville; 3. Highland Tech; 4. Bessemer City; 5. Thomas Jefferson Academy; 6. Piedmont Charter.
Southwestern 2A Conference
- 1. East Rutherford; 2. R.S. Central; 3. South Point; 4. East Gaston; 5. Shelby; 6. Chase.