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BASEBALL PREVIEW: Team-by-team capsules
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Pierce Nufer and Forsyth Central have big goals for 2016. - photo by File photo

Forsyth Central

Coach: Kevin McCollum, sixth season.

Last season: 19-11, lost in Class AAAAA second round.

Key returners: C Hunter Bauman, Sr.; 1B Wade Smith, Sr.; SS Taylor Bauman, Sr.; OF Robbie Repasz, Sr.; OF Parker Biederer, Sr.; OF Pierce Nufer, Sr.; P/DH Parker Morrison, Sr.

Key newcomers: P Ethan Hankins, Soph.; P Ryan Cox, Jr.; 1B Daniel Henderson, Jr.; IF Connor Tinkle, Sr.; IF Hunter Joyner, Sr.; P Ryu Head, Sr.; IF Nick Bryant, Jr.; IF Luke Sutko, Jr.

Outlook: Forsyth Central is coming off a Region 7-AAAAA championship after knocking off Creekview in the title series last year, but the taste of losing in the second round of the state playoffs to Jones County is still fresh in the mouths of the players—especially the seniors.

After graduating dominant pitchers Reed Clark and Logan Howard, Parker Morrison will be asked to take over as the ace on the mound, but having a recent Vanderbilt signee in sophomore Ethan Hankins doesn’t hurt.

The strength of Central’s defense will be a senior-laden outfield with Pierce Nufer, Parker Biederer and Robbie Repasz covering ground. The Bauman brothers also add timely hitting to the lineup.

“The overall group has a veteran presence and has been battled tested,” Central head coach Kevin McCollum said. “There will be a lot of competition for playing time, and we’re looking to fill some holes in the infield. (We’re) looking to compete for a region championship and a state championship.”

Lambert

Coach: Rick Howard, first season.

Last season: 20-9, lost in Class AAAAAA first round.

Key returners: C Kyle McCann, Sr.; P Turner Scruggs, Sr.; P Cole Varner, Sr.; P Jake Tomelevage, Sr.; IF Josh McAllister, Jr.; IF Parker Scruggs, Sr.; OF Jarrett Wright, Sr.

Key newcomers: 1B Griffin Jarrett, Jr.; IF Will Gabbert, JR.; OF Daniel Mickelson, Sr.; OF Michael Ralano, Sr.; P Hunter Furlong, Sr.

Outlook: Lambert loses a number of key contributors from its highly-ranked teams of the past, including Seth Beer, J.D. Dutka, Jeremy Johnson and Ian Kimbrell. It also will have a new skipper in Rick Howard, who comes to the Longhorns program from Brookwood. Howard has checked the wind on his team and feels like the key to the year will be getting meaningful varsity innings in for a number of less experienced players. A tough non-region schedule, including games against Marist, Cartersville, Buford and Mill Creek, will help the younger guys get acclimated in time for region play. Kyle McCann will give Lambert experience behind the dish, while Jarrett Wright is an experienced starter in the outfield.

“My hope is that our senior-laden pitching staff will provide some stability early on and we can get our guys some much needed reps,” Howard said.

North Forsyth

Coach: Jim Cahill, 14th season

Last season: 17-10-1, lost in Class AAAAAA first round.

Key returners: OF/P Cory Campbell, Sr.; C Parker Enright, Sr.; OF/P Tyler Koch, Sr.;  P Andrew Grogan, Sr.;  IF/P Bailey Gerstner, Sr.;  OF Zac Slaton, Sr.

Key newcomers: IF Tyler Sheley, Jr.; P/3B Caelan Thomas, So.; P/3B Brody Westbrooks, Fr.; IF Carter Mullikin, Fr.  

Outlook: After having seven players sign their national letters of intent on National Signing Day, North’s list of players committed to play in college went up to 11. Needless to say, they’re a talented bunch.

“(We) hope to improve on last season and make a deeper run in the state playoffs,” North head coach Jim Cahill said. “Pitching depth and senior leadership will be keys to success (this season).”

North had a strong season last year, finishing with the No. 3 seed and had a quick exit from the playoffs, losing the first two games of a three-game series at Pope in the opening round. Even with Dakota Chalmers and Matthew Heard no longer slated to throw from the mound, the Raiders will look to continue their brand as a dominant pitching team.

Pinecrest Academy

Coach: Ryan Weingart, second season

Last season: 7-15 (5-8 Region 6-A)

Key returners: C Andres Perez, Sr.; 1B Matt Walters, Sr.; 1B Jake Mangan, Sr.; P Todd Mahaffey, Jr.; OF Ryan McCarthy, Jr.; IF John Crone, Jr.; OF Corey Downes, JR.; IF Will Patota, So.; OF Micky Mangan, So.; SS Ben Gobbel, So.; OF Brooks Binkely, So.

Key newcomers: P/OF Patrick O’Rourke, Fr.; IF Cole Kliphouse, Fr.

Outlook: Ryan Weingart is entering just his second year with the Paladins, and he likes how things look to be trending from year one to two. This season he returns starters at every single position, now boasting a senior-heavy lineup, led by North Georgia signee Andres Perez behind the plate.

They’ll need to improve from a 1-9 road record from last year, but they were also serviceable at home with a 6-6 mark. The Paladins can’t wait to get back to work after losing four straight games to end last season.

“After having no seniors last year, we return every starter from a very young team,” Weingart said. “After a great baseball offseason and success in other sports, we are looking to build off of that hard work and success and look forward to having a productive year.”

South Forsyth

Coach: Russ Bayer, sixth season

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

Key returners: P/1B Alec Kliphouse, Sr.; SS Alex Andronica, Sr.; 2B Brett Graczyk, Jr.; OF Bradley Prince, So.; OF Max Schmal, Jr.; P Caston McDonald, Sr.; C Matty Bapst, So.; 3B Matt Cunningham, Sr.; P Trae Dunn, Jr.; P Mark House, Sr.; OF Connor McKnight, Sr.

Key newcomers: P Landon Sims, Fr.; P Ben Alexander, Jr.; P Ben Ferrer, So.; OF Ryan Finnegan, So.; P P.J. Sczcesny, Jr.; P Brennan Vincent, Jr.; IF Nick Baus, Jr.; DH Grant Pearce, Jr.; P Jack Valderrama, Sr.

Outlook: South was a dangerous team last season, earning a landmark victory with a win over Lambert late in the season, but head coach Russ Bayer hopes the team can turn into a contender. The War Eagles said goodbye to Justin Graczyk and Michael Strait from last year’s club, but still have the other Graczyk, a stud shortstop in Alex Andronica—signed with Charleston Southern—and a productive pitcher in Alec Kliphouse.

The newcomer list is full of pitchers. The early part of the year will be needed to sort out who fits into the pen.

“On paper we have a great mixture of returning starters and young talent,” Bayer said. “We have the ability to be a contender but we need to get the young guys to produce and the returning veterans to stay consistent.”

West Forsyth

Coach: Mike Pruitt, fifth season

Last season: 17-9, lost in Class AAAAAA first round.

Key returners: 1B Mason McWhorter, Sr.; SS Bryar Hawkins, Jr.; DH Hank Flood, Jr.

Key newcomers: SS/P Zach Burns, So.; OF Bryce Jones, So.; OF Ben Bresnahan, So.; C Indiana Stanley, So.

Outlook: West looked like the best team in Forsyth at times last season, but eventually had the same fate as every other team in the county—a one-and-done exit in the state playoffs.

To get back to where they were, and get farther, they’ll have to find new life after college prospects Chris Cullen (South Carolina), Alec Wilson (Stanford) and Adison Albright (Georgia) moved on to big time jobs at the next level. Even replacing North Georgia pitcher Derrick Pickvett, who was named to the FCN’s co-pitcher of the year award last year, will be a tough task.

Mason McWhorter, a Georgia Southern commit, is West’s leading senior, while juniors Bryar Hawkins and Hank Flood will lead the charge as well. Look for West to discover its pitching in the early going; as well, they’ll need a lot of new faces to step up to replace the hitting of the departed seniors.