Mill Creek’s Alek Boychuk, North’s Josh Shuler picked for USA Baseball program

Mill Creek's Alek Boychuk (22) reacts after hitting a home run against Parkview during Thursday's State Championship Games at Parkview. Photo: Dale Zanine

Region 6-AAAAAAA

Collins Hill Eagles

• Head Coach: Zach Black

• 2018 Record: 10-20, fifth in Region 6-AAAAAAA

• Returning Starters: SS Nasim Nunez, Sr.; C Kody Slate, Sr.; LHP/1B Travis Burnette, Jr.; LHP Miles Wilkins, Sr.; OF Greg Lake, Sr.

• Other key returners: LHP/1B/OF Kodai Takano, Jr.; OF/LHP Josh Merritt, Jr.; RHP/IF Jackson Cate, Sr.; OF/C Trey Estes, Jr.; OF/RHP Johnny Blake, Jr.; IF/RHP Trevor Wall, Soph.

• Key newcomers: C Tommy Franklin, Jr.; RHP/OF Ben Neadow, Soph.; IF Lester Slack, Jr.; IF Ethan Reusch, Jr.; IF Devin Snipes, Jr.; OF Blaise Brown-Villain, Jr.; IF Ian Frazier, Jr.; IF/RHP Sam Horn, Fr..

• Outlook: After missing the state playoffs the last two seasons, the Eagles will try to return to the postseason behind first-year coach Black. They bring back a talented, more experienced squad this spring to try to accomplish that goal. Leading the way is Clemson signee and Super Six shortstop Nunez, who is coming off a strong 2018 season and perhaps an even stronger offseason.

Discovery Titans

• Head Coach: Mark Deroux

• 2018 Record: 3-25, seventh in Region 6-AAAAAAA

• Returning Starters: SS/RHP Tyrique Leathers-Stone, Sr. (1 HR, 9 RBIs, 11 R); P/1B Mark McGuire, Sr. (1 HR offensively; 30 K on the mound); C Luis Suarez, Sr.; OF Tashaun Cook, Jr.

• Other key contributors: Brandon Pinales, Sr.; 1B Javarioius Barfield, Jr.

• Key newcomers: IF Aaron Oesterle, Fr.; IF Luis Rivera, Jr.

• Outlook: First-year coach Deroux comes in with a few goals in mind. Among them are improving the Titans’ team batting average by at least 100 points and establishing a winning culture from a program that is still relatively new He won’t have much experience to work with to achieve those goals, but he is excited about the potential of this year’s pool of player.

Duluth Wildcats

• Head Coach: Ryan Turner

• 2018 Record: 7-19, sixth in Region 6-AAAAAAA

• Returning Starters: 1B/RHP James Sattller, Sr. (17 RBIs); C/OF Matthew Helmstetter, Sr. (.295); SS/RHP Deshaun Richardson, Soph.; 3B/RHP Kaito Ono, Jr. (.353)

• Outlook: The Wildcat return as many as seven different players with starting experience from last season, including Sattler, Helmstetter , Richardson and Ono who made solid contributions at the plate or in the field. If the Wildcats can develop pitching depth, there is a chance for significant improvement in the region standings.

Mill Creek Hawks

• Head Coach: Doug Jones

• 2018 Record: 34-8, Region 6-AAAAAAA champion, Class AAAAAA state runner-up

• Returning Starters: C Alex Boychuk, Jr. (.416, 7 HR, 32 RBIs); IF Brendan York, Jr. (.336, 30 RBIs); RHP/2B Drew Cadena, Sr. (.279, 23 RBIs)

• Key newcomers: OF Caden Cullins, Sr.; C Blaze McCauley, Sr.; OF/LHP Zach Green, Jr.; OF James Schmidt, Sr.; OF Carson Renz, Sr.; LHP Kyle Stewarf Sr.; IF Tim Simay, Soph.

• Outlook: The Hawks will have to replace a large, successful graduated senior class that was a big part of last year’s state runner-up team, including having to replace over 150 innings of experience from the pitching staff. It helps that two of the returning starters are Super Six catcher Boychuk, as well as hard-hitting infielder York. Plus, the program always seems to develop fundamentally strong players, and Jones always seems to get the most of his squad. Put it all together and the Hawks should be a force on a region and statewide level once again this spring if they learn early from their traditionally strong pre-region schedule.

Mountain View Bears

• Head Coach: Jason Johnson

• 2018 Record: 23-11, third in Region 6-AAAAAAA, second round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs

• Returning Starters: RHP/OF Cole Johnston, Sr.; 1B/C Evan Kimbel, Sr.; RHP/SS Garrett Spikes, Jr.; RHP Gavin Collyer, Sr.; SS/2B Jubriel Felix, Sr.; LHP/OF Jonathan Daniel, Sr.; RHP/OF/1B Jimmie Heishman, Sr.; C/1B Nick Hong, Soph.

• Other key returners: RHP/OF Dylan Sadler, Sr.; LHP/1B Spencer Hancock, Jr.; • Key newcomers: RHP/IF Connor Claymore, Jr.; OF Hunter Blackstone, Jr.; RHP/3B/1B Justin Manus, Jr.; RHP/C/1B John Mattson, Jr.; RHP Vance Tulis, Jr.; 1B John Acosta, Jr.; RHP/1B Ryan O’Leary, Jr.; OF Bryson Pach, Jr.; RHP/3B Max Gault, Soph.; C D.J. Mungenast, Soph.; RHP/SS Ryan Westfall, Soph.

• Outlook: The Bears return several key starters from last year’s playoff team, including Spikes, a Georgia-committed junior who is developing into a top hitter in the county. But the biggest strength may be the talent and depth of the pitching staff, led by Clemson-bound right-hander Collyer who is battle tested in the playoffs.

North Gwinnett Bulldogs

• Head Coach: Ryan Moity

• 2018 record: 25-10, Region 6-AAAAAAA runner-up; second round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs

• Returning Starters: C Corey Collins, Jr. (.315, 5 HR, 28 RBIs, 6 3B, 30 R, .433 on-base pct.); OF Josh Shuler, Jr. (.350, 3 HR, 25 RBIs, 26 R, .509 on-base pct.); 2B Michael Borah, Sr. (.392, 5 HR, 25 RBIs, 36 R, .446 on-base pct., 15 SB, .966 fielding pct.); 3B Will Bennett, Sr.; SS Chase McCulloch, Sr. (.287, 2 HR, 17 RBIs, 17 R); RHP Brandt Pancer, Jr. (6-4, 3.51 ERA, 35 K); 1B/RHP Jayden Perrine, Sr. (.351, 20 RBIs, 5 2B, 17 R)

• Key newcomers: OF/RHP Coulson Buchanan, Soph.; RHP Sam Stewart, Sr.; RHP Colin Smith, Sr.; OF Parker Waggoner; Sr.; RHP/OF Cameron Speicher, Jr.; OF/LHP Brian Leimkuehler, Sr.; C/3B Matthew Strand, Soph.; IF Jarrett Burney, Jr.

• Outlook: The Bulldogs hope to make another deep playoff run in May, and certainly have the pieces in the everyday lineup to do so, including Super Six senior Borah, McCulloch, Perrine and Bennett, who returns after missing last season due to injury, in the infield, plus other big bats like Shuler and Collins. How far North goes may depend on how well the pitching staff develops behind Pancer, who got plenty of innings under his belt last season.

Peachtree Ridge Lions

• Head Coach: Nick Hogan

• 2018 Record: 21-11, fourth in Region 6-AAAAAAA, first round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs

• Returning Starters: SS/RHP Jack Rasmussen, Sr. (5-2, 1.85 ERA, 40 K, 45 1/3 IP); 2B Dominick McIntyre, Jr. (.250, 10 RBI, 20 SB, .437 on-base pct.); 3B Matthew Gill, Jr. (.298, 5 RBIs, .411 on-base pct., 5 SB ); LHP Thomas LeMaster, Jr. (5-3, 2.58 ERA, 40 K, 43 1/3 IP)

• Other key contributors: RHP Parker Bridwell, Sr.; RHP Ryan Nauert, Sr. (0.82 ERA, 12 K, 17 IP).; OF Julian Galassi, Sr.

• Key newcomers: OF Ryan Sonnier, Jr.; 2B John LeMaster, Jr.

• Outlook: Hogan likes the makeup of this year’s edition of the Lions, particularly the experience in the pitching staff, led by returning innings eaters Rasmussen and Thomas LeMaster, and the infield and the athleticism of the outfield. A return to the postseason seems a very attainable goal if the Lions can get more timely hitting with runners on base and put the ball in play more in general.

Region 7-AAAAAAA

Berkmar Patriots

• Head Coach: Jose Fernandez

• 2018 Record: 2-22, sixth in Region 7-AAAAAAA

• Returning Starters: OF Carlos Ozoria, IF Edwardo Balbuena

• Other key returners: IF Nick Dorminey, IF Christian Fernandez, IF/OF Anferney Angelina, OF Julian Newman

• Key newcomers: IF Alfonso Nunez, 1B Dionis Bort

• Outlook: After a lot of turnover, Fernandez will try to help a new, younger group of Patriots to grow and become more competitive as the season progresses..

Brookwood Broncos

• Head Coach: Titus Martin

• 2018 Record: 29-12, Region 7-AAAAAAA runner-up; Class AAAAAAA state semifinals

• Returning Starters: IF Will Mize, Sr. (.324, 1 HR, 31 RBIs, 5 2B, 21 R); RHP Alex Flood, Sr (10-1, 1.86 ERA, 64 IP).; RHP/SS Wesley Franklin, Jr. (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 10 2/3 IP; .424 at the plate, 14 RBIs, 7 2B)

• Other key returners: RHP Carter Bailey, Soph.; 1B/OF Billy Kosmala, Sr.; LHP Blake Jennings, Sr.; 1B Jack Flood, Sr.; OF Aaron Ashburn, Sr.; OF Gary Garrett, Sr.; OF Trey Marshall, Sr.

• Key newcomers: Zion Disroe, Tate Norman, Tyler McCarty, Hector Diaz, Ty Dudman, Aidan Hentschel, Joey Harvard, Isaiah Jordan, C.J. Kachmar, Jojo Oldknow, Chris Harakas, Jack Spyke, Josh Sosa, Brant Baughcum, Jonathan Jamie

• Outlook: The Broncos were hit hard by graduation, with only three starters returning from last year’s state semifinal qualifier. However, Martin is very high on not only a other regulars who will get a chance to contribute more, but also a strong group of newcomers. If leadership develops from the likes of Alex Flood at the top of the rotation and Mize in the batting order, the Broncos should once again be in the mix in the region race.

Central Gwinnett Black Knights

• Head Coach: Eli Autry

• 2018 Record: 8-21, fifth in Region 7-AAAAAAA

• Returning Starters: IF/CRHP Joaquin Bueno, Sr.; IF/C/RHP J.T. Tate, Jr.

• Other key returners: RF/1B Raran Rao, Sr.; RF Tim Hart, Jr.; UT Roger De Pena Mejia, Jr.; 2B/RHP Brian McGraw, Sr.

• Key newcomers: 1B/RHP Thomas Krystopa, Fr.; 3B/RHP Alexander Maxey, Fr.; 2B/C/RHP Charlie Maldonado, Fr.

• Outlook: With only two starters returning from a team that nearly made the state playoffs last year, the Black Knights will have to rely on quite a few youngsters this spring. Patience and focusing on the intangibles will be a big key.

Meadowcreek Mustangs

• Head Coach: Rex Robertson

• 2018 Record: 1-21, seventh in Region 7-AAAAAAA

• Returning Starters: CF Joseph Rodriguez, Sr. (.420); 3B Howard Rodriguez, Soph. (.900 fielding pct.); C Brock Linne, Sr.; LHP Malachi Watkins, Soph.

• Other key contributors: 1B/OF Jaylen Dickson, Sr.; 1B/OF Will Smith, Sr.

• Key newcomers: LHP Carlos Ortiz, Jr.; SS Yhonal Ortiz, Sr.; UT Jaylen Merchant, Fr.; 2B Justin Tran, Fr.; UT Oliver Delarosa, Jr.

• Outlook: New coach Robertson comes in with a lot of enthusiasm about a team that returns a handful of important players, though he is particularly excited about some newcomers, led by a strong freshman class, that could make an immediate impact.

Norcross Blue Devils

• Head Coach: Aaron Wilkens

• 2018 Record: 18-14, third in Region 7-AAAAAAA; first round of Class AAAAAAA state playoffs

• Returning Starters: 3B/1B/RHP Nolan Scourtis, Sr.; 1B/3B/RHP/C Pierce Thomas, Sr.; OF Elijah Hawkins, Sr.; OF Bryant Rhooms, Sr.; C/RHP Daniel Haab, Jr.

Other key contributors: OF/RHP Teddy Gassert, Sr.; OF Sam Howard, Sr.; SS/3B Garrett Murray, Sr.; RHP Camp Stewart, Sr.; RHP Chris Wolfe, Sr.; RHP/IF Christian Harmon, Soph.

• Key newcomers: OF Onieshon Sturgis, Sr.; IF/RHP Everett Craig, Jr.; C Davis Hallam, Jr.; 1B Andy Rhooms, Jr.; RHP/OF Anthony Bonacci, Soph.; IF David Villalobos, Jr.; IF Jack Stephenson, Soph.; IF Cody Balsman, Soph.; C/RHP Nick Nilsson, Soph.

• Outlook: The return of a group of five starters from last season will help the Blue Devils try to make a return trip to the postseason. However, the biggest area of concern will be trying to replace a number of innings lost from the pitching staff to graduation, including All-County right-hander Cooper Stinson. The good news is that Wilkens and the pitching staff is excited about the potential of the pitching staff, as well as a solid batting order from top to bottom.

Parkview Panthers

• Head Coach: Chan Brown

• 2018 record: 35-6, Region 7-AAAAAAA champion, Class AAAAAAA state champion

• Returning Starters: 2B/SS Allan Del Castillo, Sr.; C/RHP Jonathan French, Sr.; RHP Brad Stanley, Sr.; OF Makenzie Pate, Sr.; 1B/C Stephen Hrutisch, Sr.; RHP/OF Miles Garrett, Jr.; RHP Xander Stephens, Jr.

• Other key returners: RHP/1B Will Parker, Sr.; IF Koby Ayala, Sr.; IF Noah Brown, Sr.; 1B/DH Drew Demasi, Sr.; OF Max Pate, Sr.; IF/OF James Whitmer, Sr.; OF Jonathan Ponder, Jr.

• Key newcomers: C/1B/DH Jack Davis, Jr.; IF/OF Gabe Howard, Jr.; LHP Graham Yntema, Jr.; OF Quinton Cochran, Sr.

LHP Cameron Orr, Sr.

• Outlook: Fresh off their fourth state title in the last eight years, as well as a consensus national ranking, including No. 1 by Baseball America, the Panthers come into 2019 with equally high expectations despite losing the left-handed 1-2 punch of Daily Post Co-Pitcher of the Year Robert Bennett and first-team selection Braden Hays to graduation. Super Six selection French, plus Del Castillo and Pate bring a big presence to the batting order. If the Panthers can add depth the bullpen, plus solidify the left side of the infield, they should once again be among the team to beat in the region and the state’s largest classification.

Region 8-AAAAAAA

Archer Tigers

• Head Coach: Danny Daigle

• 2018 Record: 15-16, second in 8-AAAAAA, first round of Class AAAAAA state playoffs

• Returning Starters: OF Blake Bortak, Jr.; C Spencer Shaw, Sr.; SS Andrew Dyer, Soph.

• Other key returners: 3B Major Hairston, Sr.; 2B Ja’Mir Brooks, Sr.; OF/LHP Trey Messer, Jr.; SS Jorden Nathaniel, Sr.; OF Mike Donnelly, Sr.; RHP Kendall Johnson, Sr.

• Key Newcomers: OF Andrew Booth, Sr.; P A.J. Wheeler, Sr.

• Outlook: Daigle comes into a program that has progressed to the point where expectations are for the postseason pretty much every year. And with some experience returning, particularly up the middle, the Tigers should be in position to reach those expectations again in 2019, especially if some depth develops in the pitching staff. A major key will be surviving a very challenging pre-region schedule that includes games against Buford, Collins Hill, North Gwinnett, Hebron Christian and Boganville, among others.

Grayson Rams

• Head Coach: Jed Hixson

• 2018 Record: 23-14, Region 8-AAAAAAA champion, Class AAAAAAA state quarterfinals

• Returning Starters: IF/RHP John Anderson, Jr. (.383, 7 HR, 43 RBI, 27 R, 5 SB; 5-1, 4.45 ERA, 35 K, 33 IP); IF/OF/RHP Kendall Wesson, Sr. (.272, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 17 R); IF/RHP Bradley Blalock, Sr. (.406, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 31R); OF/C Jeremiah Smith, Sr. (.294, 15 RBI, 15 R); OF Josh Stinson, Sr. (.354, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 16 R, 9 SB); LHP Riley Bishop, Sr. (7-2, 3.05, 87K, 57 1/3 IP); IF Kevin Ortiz, Jr.; C Henry Hunter, Soph.; IF/RHP Ben Scartz, Sr. (.263, 9 RBI, 21 R, 9 SB; 4-1, 3.06, 14Ks, 16 IP)

• Other key returners: RHP/1B Dylan Pines, Sr.; IF Evan Beals, Jr.; OF/LHP Justin Bogard, Soph.; LHP/OF Nick Brown, Sr.; OF/1B Josh Carriere, Sr.; LHP/1B/OF Bodie Eilertson, Soph.; IF Kevin Ortiz, Jr.

• Key newcomers: C/RHP/OF Jeb Cook, Jr.; IF Garrison Gunter, Jr.; C/RHP Bennett Johnson, Jr.; RHP/1B Christian Linne, Jr.; RHP Chris McDowell, Jr.; IF William Martinez, Jr.; OF Zach Resh, Jr.

• Outlook: Despite losing a big key to last year’s state quarterfinal team in the form of Detroit Tigers minor league prospect Parker Meadows, the Rams return quite a bit of other pieces, including two-way standout Anderson, powerful bat Blalock and promising pitchers Bishop and Swartz. In addition, they get Carriere back healthy after missing all of last season with an injury to add depth. This could be another big season if the Rams play with the kind of competitive spirit Hixson expects from them.

Shiloh Generals

• Head Coach: Reggie Ingram

• 2018 Record: 4-20, sixth in 8-AAAAAAA

• Returning Starters: SS/RHP Greg Thornton, Sr.; RHP Sean Anderson, Jr.; IF/OF James Little, Jr.; C/IF/OF Bhakari Hankins, Jr.; OF Anthony Canada, Jr.; 2B A.J. Rodgers, Jr.; OF Amir Shabazz, Jr.

Other key contributors: OF Kole Edwards, Jr.

• Key newcomers: IF/OF/C Brandon Fears, Fr.

• Outlook: The Generals appear to be more experienced than they have been coming into the last several seasons, with a handful of multi-sport players that should help the team’s overall athleticism. If the team chemistry develops the way Ingram expects, a postseason berth is not out of the question.

South Gwinnett Comets

• Head Coach: Eric Jones

• 2018 Record: 23-12, Region 8-AAAAAAA runner-up; second round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs

• Returning Starters: SS Cory Lee, Jr.; C Andreaus Lewis, Soph.; RHP/CF Andrew Lewis, Soph.

• Other key returners: 1B Jaquavius Graham, Jr.; RHP Cole Thompkins, Sr.; 2B Thomas Craven, Jr.; UT Alex Rodgers, Jr.

• Key newcomers: Demontae Patterson, Soph.; Aiden Shinault, Fr.; Damien Anderson, Fr.; Kevin Jackson, Fr.

• Outlook: For the first time in 12 years, and only the the school’s history, the Comets will have a new coach in Jones, whose initial task will be a difficult one with only three returning starters. A number of young newcomers will be counted on to make an immediate impact and play fundamentally sound ball, particularly in the field, if South is to make a return to the state playoffs.

Region 8-AAAAAA

Dacula Falcons

• Head Coach: Scott Gaffney

• 2018 Record: 16-16, fourth in Region 8-AAAAAA; first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs

• Returning Starters: IF/RHP Jojo Lopez, Sr. (.301, 1 HR, 20 RBIs, 19 R); IF/RHP Jarrett Jenkins, Jr. (.304, 12 RBIs, 25 R); IF/RHP Marcerio Allen, Sr. (.411, 5 HR, 25 RBIs, 35 R); C Henry Helfrich, Sr. (.240, 1 HR, 23 RBIs); RHP Gage Felton, Sr. (5-4, 34 K, 57 IP); OF/IF/LHP Jackson Smith, Sr. (.307, 13 RBIs, 16 R; 178 K, 38 1/3 IP)

• Other key returners: OF Zack Devries, Jr.; OF Graham Josephson, Sr.; RHP Russell Rednour, Sr.

• Key newcomers: OF/RHP Blaine Jenkins, Soph.; IF/RHP Dylan Noche,Soph.; IF/RHP Colson Crosby, Jr.; OF/RHP Glen Brown, Jr.; OF/P C.J. Carrithers, Jr.; RHP Noah Wilson, Sr. • Outlook: Gaffney is very excited about a large core group of returnees from last year’s state playoff team, led by All-Region infielder and Kennesaw State commit Allen and two-way senior Smith. The biggest key will be how the Falcons round out the pitching rotation, though they appear to have plenty of quality arms to choose from.

Lanier Longhorns

• Head Coach: Jonathan Wyman

• 2018 Record: 17-15, third in Region 8-AAAAA; first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs

• Returning Starters: RHP Zach Murray, Jr.; SS Jadyn Jackson, Sr.; C Chase Coursey, Jr.; OF Cole Kilgore, Sr.; 3B Alex Boodram, Sr.; OF Ben Saxon, Jr.; DH Jake Ludwig, Sr.; RHP Will Hausknecht, Sr.; 1B Zach Marvel, Sr.

• Key returners: LHP Cam Lyle, Jr.; OF Bryce Bulls, Sr.; OF/C J.J. Jessee, Jr.; 1B/RHP Dylan Leahy, Sr.; 1B/RHP Jose Santiago, Jr.; 1B Ritchie Pechin, Sr.

• Key newcomers: 2B/RHP Mikey Kass, Soph.; IF Sean Murphy, Soph.; 3B/RHP Craig Mitchell, Jr.; RHP Jake Hoffman, Jr.

• Outlook: The Longhorns battled their way into the state playoff a year ago with a team that was much younger and less experienced. With nine returning starters and six others who got valuable experience last season, hopes and expectations are considerably higher this spring.

Region 8-AAAAA

Buford Wolves

• Head Coach: Stuart Chester

• 2018 Record: 27-13, Region 8-AAAAA runner-up; Class AAAAA state runner-up

• Returning Starters: CF Austin Turner, Sr.; RHP Ramsey David, Sr.; LHP Sean Adams, Sr.; C Patrick Walker, Sr.; LHP Dylan McKinnis, Sr.; IF Brandon Jolliff, Sr.; OF Christian Griffin, Sr.; C Patrick Walker, Sr.; RHP C.J. Couch, Sr.; IF Caleb Elder, Sr/‘ OF Evan Place, Sr.

• Other top contributors: OF Bryce Morin, Sr.; C Joseph Salvo, Jr.; 1B Grey Johnson, Jr.; C Braden Hartman, Jr.; 3B/INF Eli Ledford, Jr.

• Key newcomers: RHP/IF Dylan Lesko, Fr.; RHP/OF Riley Stanford, Fr.; RHP/UT Jackson Gaspard, Fr.

• Outlook: After finishing just short of a state title last season, the Wolves return many key components for that team to put themselves in position for another shot, including the Auburn-bound Super Six duo of Turner and David. If the pitching staff can stay healthy, the offense appears to have a good combination of power and speed. And with a strong junior class and developing freshman class, the program appears to be in good shape for the foreseeable future.

Region 7-AAA

GAC Spartans

• Head Coach: Robbie Wilson

• 2018 Record: 21-11, Region 6-AA runner-up; second round of the Class AAA state playoffs

• Returning Starters: SS Shane Lussier, Sr. (.348, 9 2B, 5 3B); OF Pirmin Brechbuhl, Jr. (.349, 3 HR, 24 RBIs); OF Zac Mixon, Jr. (.305, 33 R, 10 2B); LHP Jake Johnson, Jr. (7-1, 2.32 ERA)

• Other key contributors: LHP Bryceton Payne, Jr. (3-0, 3.46 ERA)

• Outlook: Paced by a Lussier, Brechbuhl, Mixon and a junior-heavy pitching staff, led by the lefty tandem of Johnson and Payne, the Spartans have some nice pieces to the puzzle already in place. If they can find only a few others, another deep playoff run into May is a very distinct possibility.

Area 5-A

Wesleyan Wolves

• Head Coach: Brian Krehmeyer

• 2018 Record: 24-6, Region 5-A runner-up; Class A (Private) state quarterfinals

• Returning Starters: C Charlie Taylor, Jr. (.382, 6 HR, 33 RBIs, 8 2B, 1.219 OPS); SS Don Daniel Sr. (.402, 17 RBIs, 8 2B, 1.028 OPS); CF Landon Parks, Sr. (.431, 1 HR, 16 RBIs, 1.096 OPS); RHP Wyatt Copeland, Jr. (6-1, 3.28 ERA, 33 K, 44 2/3 IP)

• Other key returners: 2B Mark Tucker, Jr.; RHP/1B Holden Wilder, Jr. (5-1, 2.97 ERA, 24 K, 28 1/3 IP)

• Key newcomers: TBA

• Outlook: While several key players were lost to graduation from last year’s surprise quarterfinalist team, a solid nucleus returns, including All-County selections Taylor and Daniel, plus Copeland, who was one of the workhorses of the pitching staff. The entry of GHSA newcomer Trinity Christian to an already tough set of foes that includes Holy Innocents’ and Strong Rock Christian will make the road a little more difficult. However, the Wolves do appear to have enough pieces to challenge for the region title and perhaps a strong state playoff seed.

Region 8-A

Hebron Christian Lions

• Head Coach: Ben Drust

• 2018 Record: 15-15, Region 8-A champion; second round of the Class A (Private) state quarterfinals

• Returning Starters: OF Max Bennett, Sr.; (.340, 15 RBIs, 31 R, .456 on-base pct.); RHP/IF Jackson Boyd, Jr. (.349, 15 R, 8 2B); C Thomas Headley, Jr. (.280, 16 RBIs); IFJason Lockhart, Jr.; RHP/IF Mason Ashby, Jr. (3-2, 39 1/3 IP; .297, 13 RBI); OF Jack Ihm, Jr. (.274, 16 RBIs, 19 R); RHP/OF Gavin Incrocci, Jr. (2-1, 3 saves, 3.70 ERA, 2 K, 24 1/3 IP); 1B/OF Alex Pawson, Jr.; IF Garrett Howe, Jr.

• Other key returners: C Anthony Lentine, Sr.; LHP Ethan Byrd, Sr.

• Key newcomers: 1B/RHP Danny Palmer, Jr.; OF Jackson Hackney, Soph.; RHP/IF Nathan Alexander, Soph.; OF Jaiden Stowers, Soph.; IF/RHP Zach Kwiatkowski, Soph.

• Outlook: The Lions took some lumps early on last season, but the lessons they learned paid off once they reached region play. Now they are a year older an wiser and should be in better position for a more consistent season provided they can find replacements for graduated seniors Jake Edwards and Landon Jones and find added depth on the mound.

Providence Christian Storm

• Head Coach: Adam Cantrell

• 2017 Record: 21-17, sixth in Region 8-A; Class A (Private) state quarterfinals

• Returning Starters: CF Keegan Tranum, Sr. (.348, 30 R); LHP Cole Tillotson, Sr. (1.80 ERA, 57 K); LHP/OF Simon Graf, Sr. (80 K, 54 1/3 IP); UT Crawford Hansard, Jr. (27 SB, 36 R); RHP/SS Ben Johnson, Jr. (49 K in 35 1/3 IP; .375, 27 R); C/1B Anthony Bowen, Jr.; C/IF Pierce Phillips, Jr.

• Other key returners: UT Sam Aurelia, Jr.; RHP/IF Joe Shealy, Soph.

• Key newcomers: OF/P J.J. Van den Berg, Jr.; 1B/P Casey Luck, Jr.; 2B Zach Douglas, Jr.; C Patrick Fain, Jr.; 1B/P Austin Kohler, Soph.

• Outlook: Losing four starters from last season’s state quarterfinal team won’t help, but the Storm do return several other building blocks this spring, including 65 percent of the innings logged by last year’s starting pitching rotation. Lefties Tillotson and Graf and right-hander Johnson give Providence perhaps one of the most solid rotations inClass A (Private). And with as many as eight different players with starting experience back, the chances long playoff run are good.

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