Coach: Kevin McCollum, 10th season
Last season: 19-13, lost in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs
Key returners: P Ethan Hankins, Sr.; C Greg Wozniak, Sr.; 1B Bradlee Brooks, Sr.; SS Parker Jones, Sr.; OF Chase Nufer, Sr.; OF Jacob Holton, Sr.; P Mitchell Gross, Jr.; 2B Greg Tasos, Jr.; 3B Jonathan Bergmoser, Jr.; P Jacob Ryan, Jr.; P Davis Smith, Sr.; P Bryan Brock, Sr.; OF Drew Harrison, Sr.; OF Jake Bump, Sr.
Key newcomers: OF Chase Hillenbrand, Jr.; OF Michael Miller, Sr.; P Will Meisner, Jr.
Outlook: If you have a pitcher with a legitimate chance to be drafted first overall, a tall, athletic flamethrower with a frightening level of command for his age and build, it’s a good first step to building a playoff contender. That’s Ethan Hankins – you might have heard his name once or twice. Add in Georgia commit Mitchell Gross, a lefty with a wicked fastball/curve combination, and the Bulldogs might have one of the best one-two punches of any high school rotation in the country. Their chances at a playoff run should come down to how much offense they can find, as Luke Sutko, Grant Cloud and Daniel Henderson, three of their main bats last year, have all graduated. With closer Alex Andrew also gone, Central will have to shore up the back of the bullpen as well.
Coach: Rick Howard, third season
Last season: 20-15, lost in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs
Key returners: C Collin Price, Sr.; LHP Aidan McAllister, Sr.; RHP Payton MacPherson, Sr.; INF/DH Jack Fleming, Sr.; RHP/DH Cooper McCann, Sr.; INF/P Carter Ballstadt, Sr.; OF Brady Burroughs, Sr.; INF/OH Gavin Neis, Sr.; C/OF Trey Hodges, Sr.
Key newcomers: 1B/P Jonathan Hemings, Jr.; INF/P Sam Carlson, Jr.; INF Ben Asher, Sr.; OF Blake Nichols, Jr.; P/OF Jacob Rising, Jr.; P/OF Nick Sheetz, Jr.; OF John Thompson, Jr.; INF Chase Mangum, Jr.; INF Nate Gabbert, Jr.; OF/INF Chris Taylor, Jr.; P Matthew Esz, Jr.; P Tanner Booth, Jr.; P J.J. DiBenedetto, Jr.; P Asher McAllister, Jr.; P David Mapes, Jr.; C/INF Garrett Hollenbeck, So.
Outlook: A weak non-region performance last year couldn’t prevent the Longhorns from sticking to the norm and winning another region title, which Lambert did by going 12-3 in Region 5-7A. And just like last year’s team, this edition of the Longhorns will have to make up for the losses of numerous important seniors, like ace righty Zach Keenan and their two top offensive players in Griffin Jarrett and Josh McAllister. There’s talent returning, though: Georgia Southern signee Aidan McAllister could lead the pitching staff, while catcher Collin Price, a Mercer signee, might be the county’s best all-around backstop. Head coach Rick Howard hopes a competitive non-region schedule prepares the Longhorns for what could be a brutal region slate for all involved.
Coach: Jim Cahill, 16th season
Last season: 9-21, missed playoffs
Key returners: OF Carter Mullikin, Jr.; OF Clayton Bardall, Sr.; P Tucker Daniel, Sr.; P Brody Westbrooks, Jr.; P Tyler Fairchild, Sr.; C Nicky Dalmolin, So.; C Colin Sanders, Sr.; 3B Evan Johnson, Sr.; 1B Kyle Martin, Sr.; P Caelan Thomas, Sr.; IF Garrett Staton, So.; 1B Tyler Morrison, So.; IF Ben Stanford, Sr.; IF Miles Hartsfield, So.; OF Preston Hedelius, Jr.
Key newcomers: 1B Braden Homesley, Sr.; P Sean Beckstrom, So.; IF Adam Duckwall, Jr.; C Justin Loedding, Jr.; OF Caleb Vercek, Jr.; P Anthony DiMola, So.; P Noah Gilbert, So.; P Garrett Sagro, So.
Outlook: The Raiders were largely left behind in what was an otherwise competitive region last year, finishing just 1-14 and missing the playoffs after reaching the second round the previous season. But North brings a large majority of 2017’s contributors back, and when asked for the team’s weaknesses, head coach Jim Cahill simply said, “kryptonite.” First baseman Kyle Martin, who missed the entire region schedule last year with a broken collarbone, gives the Raiders a solid, experienced power bat, and outfielder Carter Mullikin, the only sophomore position player to make an all-county team last season, could be one of the region’s best outfielders. Add in Georgia Tech commit Brody Westbrooks as staff ace and two other returning starters in Caelan Thomas and Tyler Fairchild, and the Raiders look poised for a huge rebound.
Coach: Ryan Weingart, third season
Last season: 12-14, lost in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs
Key returners: 1B/3B Will Patota, Sr.; SS/2B Ben Gobbel, Sr.; C/OF Mickey Mangan, Sr.; P Patrick O’Rourke, Jr.; P/UTL Caleb Bohn, So.
Key newcomers: OF/P Brooks Binkley, Sr.; IF/P Joe Garcia, Jr.; OF Patrick Sullivan, Jr.; OF Colby Mangan, Jr.; OF/P Jimmy Dinsmore, Jr.; P Matthew Savage, Jr.
Outlook: Pinecrest made its first playoff appearance in school history in 2017, and the Paladins return four all-state honorees, including Belmont Abbey signee Ben Gobbel, for 2018. Patrick O’Rourke and Caleb Bohn, the team’s top two pitchers and two of those all-state players, are back in the rotation. The graduation of Ryan McCarthy, who smashed opposing pitching to the tune of a .458 average and .567 on-base percentage, leaves a big hole in the lineup, but improvement can be expected of many of the team’s returners.
Coach: Russ Bayer, ninth season
Last season: 15-15, missed playoffs
Key returners: P/OF Landon Sims, Jr.; OF Bradley Prince Jr., Sr.; C Matty Bapst, Sr.; OF Ryan Finnegan, Sr.; SS Grant Gerberding, Sr.; P Cooper Davidson, Sr.; P/1B Ben Ferrer, Sr.; 2B Drew Becker, Sr.; OF Kyle Becker, Sr.; P/1B Keller Dannenmiller, Sr.; P Peyton Presley, Jr.
Key newcomers: IF Jack Kream, So.; P/1B Tyler Cowan, Jr.; P Steven Thompson, Jr.; P Ryan Nolan, Sr.; C/OF Colby Wheeler, Jr.; P Matthew Tesvich, Jr.
Outlook: The county and region looks to be frighteningly rich in pitching talent this season, and the War Eagles might have the deepest staff of all. Three Division I commits in Landon Sims (Mississippi State), Ben Ferrer (USC-Upstate) and Cooper Davidson (Austin Peay) headline South’s rotation, and players like Oglethorpe signee Ryan Nolan and high-ceiling junior Steven Thompson should provide support. South’s offense isn’t quite as talented, but Sims, Grayson College signee Bradley Prince Jr. and Belmont Abbey signee Matty Bapst should form a solid core. The War Eagles are particularly thirsty for a playoff berth after missing out the past two seasons, and given the talent on this year’s team, the pressure to get there could be a bit more intense.
Coach: Mike Pruitt, seventh season
Last season: 18-15, lost in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs
Key returners: P Ryan Ferguson, Sr.; OF/P Bowen Bock, Sr.; OF Connor Kirley, Sr.; OF Hunter Martin, Sr.; OF/P Ryan Gray, Sr.; 1B/P Cade Pruitt, Sr.; C Indy Stanley, Sr.; P/INF Zach Burns, Sr.
Key newcomers: “Too many to actually name.”
Outlook: Pruitt’s assessment of the biggest names among West’s new faces says a lot about what the Wolverines face in 2018, which their coach said could be a “rebuilding year.” West was shielded by season-long offensive struggles by the strong, experienced rotation of Hank Flood, Bryar Hawkins and Jay Thompson, but all three of those arms have graduated. There’s talent coming back for the Wolverines, like Kennesaw State signee Bowen Bock at pitcher, who could be both a solid starter and middle-of-the-order bat, and senior lefty Ryan Ferguson, one of the county’s most versatile, durable relievers last season. Sophomore left-hander Wyatt Crowell, who already holds an offer from Georgia Tech, could be an exciting, impactful new arm. But there’s a lot that West will have to figure out very quickly if the Wolverines want to be consistently competitive.