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BASEBALL PREVIEW: Team-by-team capsules
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Forsyth Central senior Luke Sutko and the Bulldogs are coming off back-to-back region championships in Class 5A. - photo by File photo


Coach: Kevin McCollum, seventh season

Last season: 24-6, lost in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs

Key returners: P Alex Andrew, Sr.; OF Nick Bryant, Sr.; C Grant Cloud, Sr.; P Ryan Cox, Sr.; P Ethan Hankins, Jr.; 1B Daniel Henderson, Sr.; INF Parker Jones, Jr.; OF Zach Lowe, Sr.; P/C Shaffer Meisner, Sr.; 3B Luke Sutko, Sr.; OF Evan Zaharchak, Sr.

Key newcomers: 1B Bradlee Brooks, Jr.; P Mitchell Gross, Soph.; OF Jacob Holton, Jr.; OF Chase Nufer, Jr.; INF Greg Tasos, Soph.; C/OF Greg Wozniak, Jr.

Outlook: The Bulldogs are coming off back-to-back region championships, so the program has some serious momentum as it enters Region 5 in the newly-created Class 7A. Seventh-year head coach Kevin McCollum also has some serious holes to fill at catcher, the middle of the infield and the entire outfield. But Vanderbilt commit Ethan Hankins (5-2, 2.87 ERA) should be ready to lead the pitching staff, and he’ll be helped by Ryan Cox (8-1, 1.87 ERA) and recent Georgia commit Mitchell Gross. Third baseman Luke Sutko (.352, 1 HR, 20 RBI) and first baseman Daniel Henderson (.293, 2 HR, 12 RBI) should be ready to anchor the lineup. They’ll need help, though, and that will determine how well the Bulldogs compete in the new region and classification.


Coach: Rick Howard, second season

Last season: 25-8, lost in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A playoffs

Key returners: INF Will Gabbert, Sr.; 1B Griffin Jarrett, Sr.; P Zach Keenan, Sr.; DH Harrison LeBlanc, Sr.; INF Josh McAllister, Sr.; P/INF Brandon Thomas, Sr.

Key newcomers: P Aidan McAllister, Jr.; INF Carter Ballstadt, Jr.; P Thomas Cooke, Jr.;  C/INF Jack Fleming, Jr.; P Reese Johnston, Jr.; P/INF Cooper McCann, Jr.; P/INF Payton McPherson, Jr.; INF Gavin Nies, Jr.

Outlook: Last year’s introduction for new head coach Rick Howard was a rousing success after Lambert won its straight region title and reached the quarterfinals of the Class 6A playoffs. The one problem: the Longhorns did it with almost all seniors. So Lambert has to replace last season’s vaunted pitching trio of Turner Scruggs, Cole Varner and Zach Graveno, the 2016 Forsyth County News’ Pitcher of the Year, who combined for 137 2/3 innings, not to mention its entire outfield, the right side of its infield and catcher Kyle McCann (Georgia Tech). The left side of the infield returns in Josh McAllister (.330, 10 2Bs, 15 RBI, 24 R) and Will Gabbert (.250, 1 HR, 16 RBI), as well as designated hitter Griffin Jarrett (.345, 3HR). Harrison LeBlanc got on base well (.472 OBP) in a part-time role. But the Longhorns probably go as far as its new cast of pitchers take them, led by College of Charleston signee Zach Keenan.


Coach: Jim Cahill, 15th season

Last season: 19-11-1, lost in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs

Key returners: C Paul Ackerman, Sr.; OF Jon Aiken, Sr.; P Tyler Fairchild, Jr.; 1B Kyle Martin, Jr.; INF Carter Mullikin, Soph.; INF Dawson Rickett, Sr.; SS Tyler Sheley, Sr.; INF Ben Stanford, Jr.; P Caelan Thomas, Jr.; OF/P Chopper Thronson, Sr.; P Brody Westbrooks, Soph.

Key newcomers: OF Charlie Aiken, Soph.; OF Clayton Bardall, Jr.; P Brandon Coury, Sr.; P Tucker Daniel, Jr.; P Brice Davis, Jr.; C Nicky DalMolin, Fr.; P Dayton Ellis, Jr.; 3B Evan Johnson, Jr.; C Jud Howard, Jr.; P Caleb Pipkins, Sr.; C Colin Sanders, Jr.

Outlook: The Raiders lost a number of key contributors from last season’s team that won a state playoff series for the first time since 2006, led by outfielder Cory Campbell, the 2016 Forsyth County News’ Player of the Year, but also including veteran pitchers Andrew Grogan, J.B. Finnemore and Tyler Koch and catcher Parker Enright. Tyler Fairchild is the most experienced pitcher returning, tossing 17 1/3 innings with a 1.62 ERA last season. Infielder Carter Mullikin is the most promising hitter returning, hitting .360 in 34 plate appearances. First baseman Kyle Martin displayed power potential and a solid glove. Whether North gets back in the playoff mix this season will depend on how a host of other untested players respond to increased roles. Cahill’s history of producing gritty, resilient teams earns the Raiders the benefit of the doubt.


Coach: Ryan Weingart, third season

Last season: 8-15

Key returners: OF Corey Downes, Sr.; SS/2B Ben Gobbel, Jr.; C/OF Micky Mangan, Jr.; OF Ryan McCarthy, Sr.; P/OF Patrick O’Rourke, Soph.; 3B/1B Will Patota, Jr.

Key newcomers: P/OF Brooks Binkley, Jr.; UTL Caleb Bohn, Fr.; OF Daniel Duke, Sr.; 3B/1B Chad Pacas, Fr.; INF John Reed, Sr.

Outlook: Pinecrest finished last season wondering, ‘What if?’ What if its senior-laden team had played like it did over the final few weeks when it won five straight to finish the season? It was equal parts frustrating and encouraging for the program. But third-year head coach Ryan Weingart has to replace eight seniors off that team. The Paladins aren’t starting with a completely new cast. Their top three hitters return in Will Patota (.486, 2 HR, 18 RBI), Ben Gobbel (.402, HR, 14 RBI) and Ryan McCarthy (.384, 3 HR, 22 RBI), and Corey Downes adds more experience in the outfield. Freshman pitcher Patrick O’Rourke (1-3, 4.99 ERA, 33 2/3 IP) got valuable varsity innings. Still, Pinecrest is replacing that senior group with 10 freshmen and three other newcomers.


Coach: Russ Bayer, seventh season

Last season: 14-12

Key returners: P Ben Alexander, Sr.; C Matty Bapst, Jr.; P/3B Ben Ferrer, Jr.; OF Ryan Finnegan, Jr.; SS Brett Graczyk, Sr.; 1B/DH Grant Pearce, Sr.; C/OF Bradley Prince Jr., Jr.; UTL Max Schmal, Sr.; P/OF Landon Sims, Soph.; P PJ Szczesny, Sr.; P Brennan Vincent, Sr.

Key newcomers: 2B Drew Becker, Jr.; OF/C Kyle Becker, Jr.; 1B/P Keller Dannenmiller, Jr.; UTL Grant Gerberding, Jr.; P Cooper Davidson, Jr.; P Peyton Presley, Soph.

Outlook: The War Eagles figure to be extra motivated after failing to return to the state playoffs last season. They’ll turn to a young but talented pitching staff, led by junior Ben Ferrer (1-2, 3.75 ERA, 33 2/3 IP) and Mississippi State commit Landon Sims (5-3, 4.96 ERA, 42 1/3 IP), who get to work with catcher and Purdue commit Bradley Prince Jr. Shortstop and Young Harris signee Brett Graczyk (.383, 31 R, 7 2B, 13 RBI) will anchor the lineup with help from Max Schmal (2HR, 20 RBI). But seventh-year head coach Russ Bayer most wants to see the War Eagles play solid defense and cut down on strikeouts at the plate. He hopes a challenging non-region schedule will sort that out.


Coach: Mike Pruitt, sixth season

Last season: 15-13, lost in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs

Key returners: SS/P Bryar Hawkins, Sr.; UTL Tanner Chafin, Sr.; INF/P Lucas Ellenberg, Sr.; P/OF Hank Flood, Sr.; C Indiana Stanley, Jr.; P Jacob Tate, Sr.; P/1B Jay Thompson, Sr.; 2B Connor Weldy, Sr.

Key newcomers: UTL Zach Burns, Jr.; CF Connor Kirley, Jr.

Outlook: The best thing going for the Wolverines is pitching and experience. Returning West pitchers threw 147 2/3 innings last season, led by four college signees in Bryar Hawkins (Clemson), Hank Flood (Georgia Tech), Jay Thompson (Florida Southwestern) and Jacob Tate (East Georgia State) plus Lucas Ellenberg. Add in the likes of infielders Connor Weldy (Augusta University) and Tanner Chafin, and the Wolverines have 12 seniors to provide the requisite leadership. Sixth-year head coach Mike Pruitt is most concerned with West’s lineup. Hawkins (.355, 9 2Bs, 2 HR, 14 RBI) can hit, but the Wolverines will miss Georgia Southern signee Mason McWhorter.