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For the second straight season, a team from the Tri-9 Conference won the state baseball championship.
But such success is to be expected from a league that has produced four of the last 13 4A champs.
All five playoff-bound teams won a first-round game. Two of those five were eliminated by another Tri-9 team, with Holly Springs losing at Fuquay-Varina and Fuquay losing at Middle Creek.
Middle Creek went on to win its first state title in school history, meaning more than half the league can now hang a state championship banner for the sport.
Green Hope (19-6): It was the Falcons, not the defending state-champion Mustangs, who won the outright Tri-9 title last year. Green Hope arguably has been the most consistent team in the league over the last five seasons but has yet to make it to the third round of the postseason.
Green Hope junior shortstop Stephen Pitarra (.326) returns with all-conference picks junior Thomas Yoder (.329) and senior Luca Scelsi (.358). Daniel Weygandt, also an all-conference pick, was 7-2 with a 1.77 ERA.
Middle Creek (26-7): Many of coach Jeremy Thompson’s players from last year are gone, but that also was the case last season.
Leadoff hitter junior Tyler Sholar returns after hitting .354. Only three other starters return: sophomore shortstop Diego Guerrero, centerfielder Keenen Herring and senior lefty Graham Edwards (9-1, 1.78 ERA).
Junior right-hander Jordan Towler (4-1 with four saves) likely will move into the other starting pitcher spot.
Fuquay-Varina (18-8): Garrett Suggs, a three-year starter and N.C. State signee, returns to centerfield. The Bengals also have four returning starters, including exceptional shortstop D.J. Burt, third baseman Brett Daniels and catcher Brian Mitchell.
Holly Springs (12-13): The Hawks won the state crown in 2011 and are expected to be better than a year ago. Junior Andy Wantz (2.00 ERA) and Brian Fortier (2.08 ERA) are back.
Apex (14-11): The Cougars may have lost key players to last year’s team but return plenty of senior contributors like Camby Abell, Austin Campbell, Matt Jackson, Cooper Grissom and Gavin Locklear.
Holly Springs (12-13): One year removed from its first state title, coach Rod Whitesell’s team is reloaded for this year. Davidson signee Brian Fortier (2.08 ERA) and junior Andy Wantz (2.00 ERA) combine for the Tri-9’s most proven pitching duo.
Lee County (9-13): Always a tough out, Lee County returns one all-conference pick in Chase Arrington.
Panther Creek (7-16): Coach Daniel Hall wants to build upon last season’s success – tying the school record in wins – which will be easy if the pinstripes improve last year’s 1-6 record in one-run games.
Athens Drive (8-14): The Jaguars hope to rebound this season with junior Justin Christian and senior Matt Proctor as two of the team’s better hitters.
Cary (7-15): How tough is the Tri-9? Over the last three years, Cary has excelled in nonconference games, yet has finished in the bottom third of the league standings each time.
Cary Academy (24-1): The Chargers shattered the school record books and made it to the NCISAA state semifinals before their first loss ended the season.
Wake Christian (23-4): If there was one sport the Bulldogs dominated in the N.C. Christian Schools Association, it was baseball.
They’ll find out how those state titles, like last year’s, translate to the NCISAA.
Wake County Homeschool (25-4): The Warriors, which include many players from southwest Wake, shocked everyone last year by knocking off three 4A teams en route to the Bobby Murray tournament championship.
William Cunningham has committed to play at Barton College.