03/14/06 — Falcons expected to fare well in ECC

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Falcons expected to fare well in ECC

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on March 14, 2006 2:46 PM


News-Argus Sports Writer

With two new schools -- Wilson Hunt and Wilson Beddingfield -- in the Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference and four schools out after realignment -- West Carteret, West Craven, Washington and South Central -- there was a sense of the unexpected among the ECC baseball and softball coaches in a preseason coaches poll conducted by the News-Argus.

Still, one thing seemed to remain a constant -- Wayne County teams are expected to continue to fair well in the updated six-team league.

Charles B. Aycock's baseball and softball team each received five first-place votes and were selected to finish at the top of their leagues.

Southern Wayne and Eastern Wayne were picked second and third, respectively, in the baseball poll with the Saints picking up one vote for first. Meanwhile, Southern Wayne's softball team was picked third, just behind Wilson Hunt. Of the six Wayne County teams, only one was picked to finish below third and out of playoff contention.

"It's going to be interesting to see how it shakes out. It always comes down to the last day of the season," Saints' coach Trae McKee said. "You can't take anybody lightly and you've got to come focused. All the conference games have playoff implications."

For veteran Aycock coach, Charles Davis being picked first can be a positive or negative -- depending on how his team responds.

"It's very early, and it puts the bulls-eye on us," he said. "I don't know why we were picked first, but hopefully our guys will take it as a challenge and we'll see what happens."

Likely, most coaches selected the Golden Falcons to finish first due to their returning depth. Aycock brings back eight starters from last year, including a trio of junior pitchers -- Garrett Davis, Grant Sasser and Brandon Price. Seniors Will Spence (SS), Jackson Massey (OF/P) and Bennett Jeffreys (C) are also back for the Falcons, while juniors Bradley Taylor (OF), Joseph Toler (2B) and Thomas Pilkington (3B) should also play key roles.

The Saints return six regulars and have a solid corps of upper classmen leaders. Senior pitchers Ashton Langston and T.J. Hinson will anchor the staff, as fellow returners Austin Hood (Sr., OF/SS), David Combs (Sr., C/P) Brady Wiggins (Jr., IF) and Garrett Barfield (Jr., OF/C) will also be counted on for production and leadership.

Eastern Wayne, the lone N.C. High School Athletic Association playoff qualifier in the county in 2005, returns just two full-time starters from last year, Tyler Ham (C/P) and Joey Moye (OF/P), but Chris Brown (2B) and Michael Mintz (SS) both started on a part-time basis. Warriors' coach Jabo Fulghum will likely experiment with lineups all season as a handful of talented underclassmen gain experience.

Hunt, picked to finish in a third-place tie with Eastern Wayne, returns six starters from a 2005 playoff qualifier, while Beddingfield, selected fourth, has five returning starters, but a "very young pitching staff," according to coach Jody O'Neal. Kinston, under the direction of second-year coach, Eddie Loesner, was picked to finish sixth in the ECC.

Aycock softball coach David West has seven players back that got a lot of playing time in 2005 as the Falcons posted their third-straight ECC title and again advanced to Walnut Creek. Junior Julia Lancaster and sophomore Emily Jordan should share the pitching duties for the Falcons, while Kandace Burroughs (1B/C) and Brittani Edgerton (2B) -- both collegiate signees -- will anchor the infield. Jasmine Dobbin, Jazzmine Lee and Rusti Talton all return in the outfield.

Selected just behind Wilson Hunt to finish third, Southern Wayne, should challenge for the playoffs behind the experience of Katie Westfall (Sr., C), Rachel Reynolds (Jr., 3B), Lynn Grantham (Jr., 1B), Haley Fail (Jr., DP/OF) and Alyssa Bradshaw (So., SS). Freshmen Lauren Darden and Morgan Davis are showing promise as young pitchers for coach Brad Matthews.

Both veteran clubs, Beddingfield (14 returners) and Kinston (16 returners), were selected fourth and fifth by the ECC coaches, while Eastern Wayne was picked sixth.

Warriors' coach Scott Waller has two senior starters in Emily Sasser (C) and Wendy Gardner (P). Junior Megan Pittman (DP) and sophomore Carrie Adams (P) also return for Eastern Wayne, which will likely start three freshmen.

The first game date for ECC play is set for March 24 -- Eastern Wayne at Southern Wayne; Aycock at Beddingfield; Kinston at Hunt.

-- 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.