By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
BASEBALL PREVIEW: Team-by-team capsules
WF MMcWhorter web
West Forsyth junior Mason McWhorter (center). - photo by Brian Paglia

CAMBRIDGE

Coach: Brian Jeffrey, third season.

Last season: 11-15, 10-10 in Region 7-AAAAA.

Key returners: C/RHP Brendan Lawler, sr.; SS Brian Moore, sr.; LF Nick Sieverts, sr.; LHP/CF Austin Weiermiller, soph.

Key newcomers: INF Crew Cohoes, soph.; OF Pete Gottschalk, jr.; RHP Jonathan Mullis, jr.; 1B/LHP Hayden Onorato, soph.; 1B/RHP/RF Conner Young, soph.

Outlook: The Bears in 2014 were a tale of two teams. There was the frustrating start, a 1-8 struggle that included close losses to Chattahoochee (1-0), Pope (4-3) and West Forsyth (2-0). Then there was the exciting finish, a 10-7 run with confidence-building wins over Creekview, Kell, Northview, Pope and Sprayberry. That’s the team coach Brian Jeffrey hopes his bunch can be now in its third year of existence. There’s plenty to suggest Cambridge is ready to take the next step. It has an ace in sophomore left-hander Austin Weiermiller (1.13 ERA, 78 Ks) who is being recruited by most major ACC and SEC schools. It has a run-producer in the middle of its lineup in senior catcher Brendan Lawler (.434, 27 RBIs). Sure, the Bears might lean on a crop of sophomores, but Jeffrey trusts their talent. “We’re finitely going to be competitive this year,” Jeffrey said. “I would be disappointed if we did not make the playoffs.”

CHATTAHOOCHEE

Coach: Tim Lemons, 24th season.

Last season: 14-14-1, lost in Class AAAAAA first round.

Key returners: OF/3B Jordan Einstein, sr.; P/OF Brando Ernest, sr.; SS Griffin Kern, sr.; C/P Kyle King, sr.; LHP/OF Nick Palermo, jr.; P/3B/C Austin Wilkinson, sr.

Key newcomers: 3B/C/P Curtis Adcock, soph.; OF/3B/P Patrick Hoffman, jr.; 2B/SS Nick Jones, jr.; 2B/3B Justin Kaiser, jr.; P/3B Tristen McDaniel, jr.; 1B/LHP Ryan Zweber, soph.

Outlook:  Consider the agony of the Cougar’s playoff experience last season. Chattahoochee reached the state playoffs only to lose twice to Grayson by one run. That was a strong source of motivation for the Cougars this offseason. Head coach Tim Lemons likes the blend of experience and youth on this team. There’s Griffin Kern, a four-year starter at shortstop. Kyle King is entering his third year starting at catcher. Jordan Einstein is a third-year starter at third base. Nick Palermo and Brando Ernest both started in the outfield last season. But Lemons expects big things out of junior Patrick Hoffman, who missed all of last season with an injury but started as a freshman, sophomore Ryan Zweber. The biggest question will be how to replace the loss of Tony Debrill (now at Kennesaw State) and Adam Pearlberg. That effort will be led by Austin Wilkinson. “I think we’re in good shape,” Lemons said. “It all starts on the mound. We’ll see how that goes. If it goes well, we’ll be fine.”

FORSYTH CENTRAL

Coach: Kevin McCollum, fifth season.

Last season: 13-13, 11-9 in Region 7-AAAAA.

Key returners: P Reed Clark, sr.; 3B Josh Meese, sr.; SS Taylor Bauman, jr.; 2B Jacob Phillips, sr.; P/OF Parker Morrison, jr.; 1B/P Logan Howard, sr.; C Hunter Bauman, jr.; OF Parker Biederer, jr.; OF Robbie Repasz, jr.; C/DH Jordan Wilson, sr.; 3B Avery Adams, sr.; P Cody Dreher, sr.

Key newcomers: OF/P Pierce Nufer, jr.; OF/P Ryu Head, jr.; 2B Hunter Joyner, jr.

Outlook: Forsyth Central just missed out on a state playoff spot out of Region 7-AAAAA last season, but it’s plenty reasonable to expect a postseason appearance for the Bulldogs this time around. Catcher Michael Branigan was the only significant loss for Kevin McCollum. Central returns all five of its honorable mention all-county selections: catcher Hunter Bauman, pitcher Reed Clark, first baseman/pitcher Logan Howard, third baseman Josh Meese, and pitcher/outfielder Parker Morrison. Clark, Howard and Morrison give the Bulldogs a formidable and experienced pitching rotation. McCollum expects Central to be strong defensively behind its pitchers. Like South, Central has to figure out how to play station-to-station baseball and manufacture runs. McCollum also said he’s still searching for late-innings options out of the bullpen. “The expectation is to find a way into the state playoffs,” McCollum said.

JOHNS CREEK

Coach: Billy Nicholson, sixth season

Last season: 20-14, 10-4 in Region 6-AAAAAA; lost in the Class AAAAAA Final Four.

Key returners: 2B/SS/P Noah Wilmot, sr.; 1B/P Ross Funke, sr.; UTIL Tyler Dupree, sr.; 3B/P Jared Mihalik, so.; OF/P Jonathon Horan, jr.; OF/P Shane Rosen, sr.; 1B/P Will Mangurian, so.; IF Jace Mercer, jr.; C Ryan Siegfried, sr.; C/1B Hunter Lee, jr.

Key newcomers: C Marcus White, jr.

Outlook: In Billy Nicholson’s six seasons at Johns Creek, his Gladiator teams have been known for the strength and depth of their pitching.

Last season, right-handers Charlie Hecht (1.91 ERA, four wins, GCSU signee) and Gabe Moore (1.42 ERA, 50 K in 44.1 IP, Kentucky signee) and lefty Nicholas Radivoj (3.10 ERA) gave Johns Creek a formidable rotation.

They’re all gone.

“It’s the pitching unknown that really scares us,” Nicholson said. “After graduating 26 seniors the past two years and a majority of that being pitching, I would have to say this would be the biggest concern going into this season.”

Johns Creek returns just three starters (major contributors, really) from last year’s team that lost in the Class AAAAAA Final Four to state runners-up Milton. Second baseman Noah Wilmot and first baseman/pitcher Ross Funke both hit above .300, and left fielder Tyler Dupree was leading Region 6-AAAAAA in hitting at .400-plus before contracting mononucleosis two weeks before the end of the regular season.

Funke will undergo surgery on Feb. 16 to repair meniscus damage; he’ll miss four-to-six weeks.

Catcher Marcus White transferred to Johns Creek from Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Ga. Nicholson said he can catch-and-throw with the best in Georgia, but he’s never seen the junior hit in a game and is unsure what to expect.

The rest of Nicholson’s lineup is in question — shortstop, first base, third base, center field, most notably.

“Our lineup card is going to look like a Chinese Fire Drill, with so many guys going in and out of the games,” Nicholson said. “Guys coming up from junior varsity have seen pitchers throwing 72-75 there, but when the lights come on and it’s 88-90, some guys shrink.”

Despite all the question marks, the Johns Creek program has evolved to the point where the state playoffs are a baseline expectation. Defense won’t be a problem for this year’s team, Nicholson said, and the Gladiators should hit better as the season progresses.

“When you have the tradition and mindset that we’ve established here, our kids expect to make the playoffs and they usually win a few games that maybe they shouldn’t,” Nicholson said. “As most of our guys have seen, if you play your best baseball towards the end of the season, great things can happen.”

KING’S RIDGE

Coach: Dallas McPherson, first season.

Last season: 28-4, Class A private school champions.

Key returners: UTL Kyle Boronovich, jr.; OF/LHP Connor Burns, sr.; LHP Austin Higgenbotham, sr.; C Lawson Hill, soph.; INF Tarez Miller, sr.; IF/RHP Cullen Monnette, jr.; INF/P Adam Moore, sr.; OF Brandt Stallings, sr.

Key newcomers: INF/RHP Josh Byrnes, soph.; OF/RHP Stephen Owen, soph.

Outlook: Can we declare King’s Ridge the Lambert of Class A? Really, the similarities are remarkable. Reigning state champions? Check. The Tigers swept their way through the Class A private school playoffs to the program’s first-ever state title. New head coach? Yep. Dallas McPherson takes over for Jason Couch. Stud in the lineup? Sure thing: outfielder Brandt Stallings, a Perfect Game All-American and Georgia Tech signee who hit .545 with 10 home runs and 41 RBIs last season. Ridiculous depth returning? You bet. The Tigers have three other Division I signees in ace Austin Higgenbotham (Austin Peay, 10-1, 1.62 ERA), Adam Moore (Mercer, .366, 19 RBIs, 7-0, 1.09 ERA) and Tarez Miller (Georgia Southern). McPherson said the team’s biggest goal has been to provide depth behind sophomore catcher Lawson Hill. Not that he needs the help. He started all 31 games as a freshman and hit .343 with 27 RBIs.

LAMBERT

Coach: Drew Ferrer, first season.

Last season: 36-2, 14-0 in Region 6-AAAAAA; won Class AAAAAA state championship.

Key returners: OF/RHP Seth Beer, jr.; OF Jeremy Johnson, sr.; OF Tucker Maxwell, jr.; C Kyle McCann, jr.; RHP/3B JD Dutka, sr.; SS Eric Furphy, sr.; C/OF/DH Will Dunavant, sr.; 1B Ian Kimbrell, sr.; 3B Chris Cummings, sr.; LHP Thomas Reddin, sr.; RHP Turner Scruggs, jr.; RHP Matt Vonderschmidt, sr.; INF Nick Guimbarda, sr.

Key newcomers: OF Darius Foster, so.; 2B/SS Josh McAllister, so

NORTH FORSYTH

Coach: Jim Cahill, 13th season.

Last season: 12-14, 6-8 in Region 6-AAAAAA.

Key returners: RHP/INF Max Bening, sr.; OF/LHP Cory Campbell, jr.; INF Griffin Caracciolo, sr.; RHP Jacob Cherry, sr.; INF Jake Craddock, sr.; RHP Caleb Dixon, sr.; RHP Charley Edwards, jr.; C/INF Parker Enright, jr.; RHP/INF Andrew Grogan, jr.; LHP/1B Matthew Heard, sr.; LHP/1B Tyler Koch, jr.; OF Zac Slaton, jr.; C/INF Brant Stark, sr.

Key newcomers: OF Triston Campbell, jr.; RHP Dakota Chalmers, sr.; RHP J.B. Finnemore, jr.; INF Bailey Gerstner, jr.; LHP Caleb Gilbert, jr.; INF Trent McKinney, jr.; RHP/INF Trevor Rhys, jr.; C Cory York, jr.

Outlook: The bad news last season was the oh-so-close finish for the Raiders, who were in contention for a state playoff berth until the last week. The good news for this season is virtually North’s entire roster is back, with the addition of some significant reinforcements. Experience shouldn’t be a concern. Left-hander and first baseman Matthew Heard has four years of varsity experience, while Max Bening, Cory Campbell, Zac Slaton and Brant Stark have three. Cahill relishes the depth and flexibility this roster provides, allowing him to adjust his defense and lineup according to the opponent or who’s swinging a hot bat. But the most notable storyline for the Raiders this offseason was the transfer of Dakota Chalmers, a right-handed pitcher who can touch 91-94 MPH. North hopes his presence gives it that extra edge it needs to get back the playoffs. “They definitely weren’t satisfied with last year,” Cahill said. “They know what it’s like to almost make it.”

NORTHVIEW

Coach: Aaron Wilkens, second season.

Last season: 15-11, 11-9 in Region 7-AAAAA.

Key returners: SS/P Christian Skjoedt, sr.; OF/P Kevin Sell, sr.; INF Sam Nadel, jr.; OF Robbie Hilton, jr.

Key newcomers: P Conor O’Mahony, sr.; C John Rivera, sr.; OF/P Matthew Pacifico, so.; INF DJ Poteet, so.

Outlook: Northview saw one Forsyth county team last year; the Titans finished tied with Central at 11-9 in Region 7-AAAAA. This year, they’ll see the other four county teams with the move up to Region 6-AAAAAA. “There are a lot of newcomers to the team this season; it will be interesting to see how they react to the increased level of play,” Titans head coach Aaron Wilkens said. Wilkens said Northview takes pride in defense and making smart plays. What the Titans lack, however, is a power bat — in other words, there’s nobody in the lineup that opposing teams have to pitch around. “We’ll need to adjust accordingly in order to win games, but we have some versatility on offense,” Wilkens said. Seniors Christian Skjoedt and Kevin Sell should handle most of the pitching duties for Northview, as will newcomers Conor O’Mahony and sophomore Matthew Pacifico. “We have a team goal of making the state tournament, but in order for that to happen, we need to give 100 percent effort every time we are on the field,” Wilkens said. “Luckily, each individual player on this team is in control of his own effort level.”

PINECREST ACADEMY

Coach: Ryan Weingart, first season.

Last season: 14-10, 9-9 in Region 8-A.

Key returners: P Todd Mahaffey, jr.; OF/SS Ryan McCarthy, soph.; C/3B Andres Perez, jr.; CF Matthew Walters, jr.

Key newcomers: C/OF Brooks Binkley, fr.; SS/OF Ben Gobbel, fr.; OF Mickey Mangan, fr.; 3B/1B/P Will Patota, fr.

Outlook: Ryan Weingart takes over for Daniel Stockdale, who departed for Savannah State and is now the interim head coach at Albany State. Weingart is familiar with the team he inherits. He was an assistant under Stockdale last season, so he’s aware that the Paladins return eight out of nine starters from a year ago. The group is led by a quartet of returning all-region performers, and it starts on the mound with junior Todd Mahaffey. He throws to catcher Andres Perez, the son of former Atlanta Braves catcher and current bullpen coach, Eddie Perez. Meanwhile, sophomore Ryan McCarthy and junior Matt Walters form a strong duo in the outfield. But the Paladins are also going to need big seasons from a group of freshman that includes Brooks Binkley, Ben Gobbel, Will Patota and Micky Mangan. Even so, Pinecrest expects to the make the state playoffs for the first time since joining the GHSA. “With the group we have coming back, we are setting the bar high,” Weingart said.

SOUTH FORSYTH

Coach: Russ Bayer, sixth season.

Last season: 10-16, 5-9 in Region 6-AAAAAA.

Key returners: RHP/1B Caston McDonald, jr.; P/1B Alec Kliphouse, jr.; INF Gavin Crimmins, sr.; RHP/INF Anthony Trovato, sr.; C Jordan McGriff, sr.; OF Michael Strait, sr.; OF Justin Graczyk, sr.; OF Horbin Figueroa, sr.; RHP/DH Max Schmal, so.; RHP/OF Nick Caprio, sr.; RHP Logan Cole, sr.; RHP Wil Foy, sr. 

Key newcomers: 3B Brett Graczyk, so.; C/OF Bradley Prince, fr.

Outlook: Pitching won’t be an issue for a South Forsyth team that returns all but 1 1/3 innings pitched from last season. First team all-county selection Anthony Trovato, a Rollins College signee, and honorable mention all-county pitcher Wil Foy (signed with Alabama) return for Russ Bayer’s War Eagles. Nate Schmal, a first team all-county pick last year, is the biggest loss. Bayer likes his upperclassmen-filled roster; Max Schmal, Brett Graczyk and Bradley Prince are the three underclassmen expected to play with some regularity. Alec Kliphouse and Jordan McGriff both were honorable mention all-county selections, and both return. The problem for South last year: scoring runs. The War Eagles were held to two runs or fewer in half of their 26 games in 2014. South went 2-11 in those games. “[We need to get better at] scoring early in games,” Bayer said. “If we pitch and play defense to our ability level, we should compete to be in the playoff race.” In what is becoming a familiar theme for Forsyth county teams, South will play a tough non-region schedule, with Russell County (Ala.), Huntsville (Ala.), Greenbrier, Etowah, and Winder-Barrow on deck.

ST. FRANCIS

Coach: Brandon Bates, first season.

Last season: 4-21, 1-17 in Region 6-A.

Key returners: P/OF Clark Adams, soph.; 3B/P Andrew Balmer, soph.; C/P Daryian Basco, jr.; INF/P Matthew Davis, soph.; 1B/P Ryan Fields, jr.; OF Patrick Harrington, soph.; SS/P Jules LaCoste, jr.; C/1B Lake McClure, sr.

Key newcomers: INF/P/OF Sammy Berman, soph.; OF AJ Cummings, sr.; OF/P Matthew Fezza, fr.; INF Jack Madren, soph.; C/INF Riley Spearman, soph.

Outlook: Though first-year head coach Brandon Bates is plenty familiar with his Knights team, having served as pitching coach the past three years, this season is still billed as something of a fresh start. Bates’ first order of business was to establish the motto, ‘FOR LOVE OF THE GAME.’ He printed the slogan on the back of T-shirts that players wear every day at practice hoping it leads to something of an attitude overhaul for the program. Good thing it’s a young bunch to absorb the message. The Knights’ ace is sophomore Clark Adams. The team’s only three returning starters are all juniors – catcher/pitcher Daryian Basco, shortstop/pitcher Jules LaCoste and first baseman/pitcher Ryan Field. Bates is expecting more out of newcomers Andrew Balmer, Sammy Berman, Matthew Davis and Patrick Harrington. “It’s a young group,” Bates said, “but I think they’re hungry, and they want to win.”

WEST FORSYTH

Coach: Mike Pruitt, fourth season.

Last season: 17-12, 7-7 in Region 6-AAAAAA; lost in the Class AAAAAA first round.

Key returners: OF Alec Wilson, sr.; OF Hampton McConnell, sr.; C Chris Cullen, sr.; LHP Addison Albright, sr.; OF/DH/P Mason McWhorter, jr.; OF Nate Schmitz, sr.

Outlook: West Forsyth has enough high-end talent to better their first-round state playoff exit last season. There’s Stanford-bound Alec Wilson in center field; South Carolina signee Chris Cullen moves from shortstop to catcher, where he’ll play in college; Georgia signee Addison Albright is one of the top left-handed pitchers in the state. Add outfielders Hampton McConnell and Nate Schmitz to the mix, and West has five proven playmakers. The Wolverines must replace first baseman Brett Anderson, and while the loss of catcher Josh Tate will be mitigated some by Cullen, West has to find a middle-infield pairing. That’s been head coach Mike Pruitt’s main concern all offseason: who will step up and lock down jobs at second base and shortstop? And, who can replace Forsyth County co-pitcher of the year Johnny Cassandra and all-county pitcher Connor Milford? Look for junior Mason McWhorter to get more innings. “We’ve got a very large and talented group [of seniors],” Pruitt said. “We must improve on those positions that were vacated last season and get the younger players to gel with the older to create better team chemistry.”