03/13/06 — Parity Predicted in Carolina Conference

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Parity Predicted in Carolina Conference

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on March 13, 2006 2:41 PM

Balanced. Competitive. Parity.

Most baseball and softball coaches in the Class 1-A Carolina Conference echoed one of those three descriptions of their respective leagues during a preseason coaches poll conducted by the News-Argus.

Three different teams got at least one first-place vote in each of the polls as Ayden-Grifton topped the baseball poll with three, while defending champion North Johnston claimed the softball poll, also picking up three votes for the top position.

Princeton, the defending baseball champ, finished just behind the Chargers with two first-place votes. Rosewood, one-of-two teams with first-year coaches, picked up one vote for first and was picked to finish third under the direction of Josh Smith.

North Johnston, with former Rosewood coach David Lawhon at the helm, was selected fourth, followed closely by Spring Creek as North Duplin rounded out the poll.

Veteran Princeton coach, Bruce Proctor, expects another tough year in a conference that saw five teams win at least five games in 2005.

"I think it's going to be real even. You better be ready to play every game, every week," he said. "Top-to-bottom it should be very evenly distributed as far as talent goes."

Princeton returns five starters, including Daniel Gerrell (Sr., CF/P), Patrick Gatewood (So., SS/P), Colin Parker (Jr., LHP/OF), Kyle Harmon (Jr., IF/P) and Adam Nethercutt (Jr., IB). Sophomore Ryan Daughtry has show promise as an infielder and pitcher.

Rosewood, which barely missed the playoffs in 2005, also has its fair share of returners and upper classmen with senior ace, Kyle Bunn anchoring the pitching staff. Coming off a solid junior campaign, Trey Kriger (CF) provides a consistent lead-off hitter, while David Smeltzer (Jr, C) provides some pop in the middle of the order.

Spring Creek has just two seniors and one returning starter, Michael Russell (OF). Sophomores Alex Casey (OF), Anthony Brogden (P) and Timothy Rodgers (P) and freshman Stephen Best will also play key roles for the young Gators under veteran coach Roger May.

With six-year coach John Avent in the dugout, North Duplin needs Doug Lloyd (So., P, IF), Wade Sasser (Sr.,DH/1B), Billy Mello (Sr., C/1B), and Ryan Smith (Sr., LF) to provide leadership and production for the Rebels.

In the softball poll, perennial favorites, North Johnston and Ayden-Grifton, garnered five of the six first-place votes with the Panthers edging the Chargers by three points. North Duplin got one first-place vote and was picked third. Under the leadership of first-year coach Debbie Bailey, Rosewood was picked fourth. Spring Creek and Princeton finished tied in the voting for the last spot.

North Duplin, Rosewood and Spring Creek all return their fair share of players. The Eagles bring back eight players as the Rebels and Gators return six a piece.

"We only lost one senior last year. I think we are going to do well this year," North Duplin coach Heather Best said. "We've got good pitching depth in left-hander Jessica Pridgen and righty Kayla Myers. I've got high hopes this year with the team and I think we'll do very well in the conference this year, hopefully making the playoffs."

Elizabeth Lane, Brittney Carr, Casey Pate and Heather Hudson also return for the Rebels.

Juniors Aubrey Reinhard and Chandra Meadows will lead Rosewood on the mound, while Courtney Hill (Jr., SS) and Abigail Barrow (Sr., 2B) compose a solid middle infield combination. Seniors Kasey Grey and Summer Turnage are back in the outfield.

Spring Creek coach Sonny Kilpatrick believes the senior battery of Lorenda Brogden (P) and Shanna Gooding (C) will help guide his team to an improved season.

With Farmville Central now among the 2-A ranks, the Carolina Conference is now a five-team league with a 10-game schedule.

The first set of league games is March 28 -- Spring Creek at Princeton, North Johnston at North Duplin and Rosewood at Ayden-Grifton.

-- Poll process: Each coach was asked to pick the order of finish of each team in the conference, excluding their own team. Each first-place vote was awarded five points, second -- four points, third -- three points, fourth -- two points, fifth -- one point.