BY DOUGLAS FRITZ, Johnson City Press
Carrying the momentum of an appearance in last year’s Class AA state baseball tournament, Elizabethton was the pick to win the Three Rivers title this season.
The Cyclones have enough returning weapons to be the team to chase. In hot pursuit will be Unicoi County and Sullivan East, with Sullivan South filling the dark horse role.
Sullivan Central, Happy Valley and Johnson County will have to battle their way into the top half.
Three Rivers Conference predictions
2. Unicoi County
3. Sullivan East
4. Sullivan South
5. Sullivan Central
6. Happy Valley
7. Johnson County
When a team’s strength is built on the mound, it’s usually a good sign.
The Cyclones boast senior right-hander Matthew Dailey at the top of the rotation with junior right-hander Evan Carter in the same echelon. Lawson Wagner (RH, Sr.) fills the role of a quality closer.
At the plate, Carter (cf) should be one of the area’s best hitters.
“Evan Carter will be a force to be reckoned with,” said head coach Ryan Presnell. “He’s not only talented, but has that ‘it’ factor that results in a player who works harder than most and understands the game well enough to be a field general.”
Carter will be complemented by bats like Evan Perkins (c, Sr.) and Karson Dillard (2b, Jr.).
“We hope to build on the success championed by our seniors last year,” said Presnell. “And more importantly we hope to love on each other and create a season we will never forget, building strong bonds between these young men for the rest of their lives!”
The Blue Devils expect to be able to hit the baseball, so they need one more element to be a championship club.
“We have a few guys with the capability to do big things at the plate,” said head coach Chad Gillis. “If the pitching holds true, there is no reason to count us out.”
Leading the way on the mound are Keaton Casey (RH, Sr.) and Peyton Whitson (LH, Jr.).
The top hitters include Whitson (1b), Brett Strother (cf, Sr.) and Garrett Manuel (of, Sr.).
“Brett worked hard in the offseason to improve at the plate,” said Gillis. “He is a big, strong kid who can hit the ball hard. We are counting on him to continue hitting the ball the way he did in preseason.”
A strong tradition keeps the Patriots in the upper-league-mix mention year in and year out.
This year it will be senior Tanner Leffew and junior Dylan White leading the way on the mound. Both are right-handed hurlers.
When East is batting, senior second baseman Eli Milhorn will lead the way. Adding to the stick mix include Perry Casaday (ss, Jr.) and Brantley Ellis (lf, Sr.).
“We have a hungry group of guys and hope to compete for a conference title,” said head coach Mike Breuninger. “And we hope to be playing our best baseball at the end of the season.”
It was a sub-par season in 2018 by the Rebels’ usual standards, but head coach Anthony Richardson said he’s hopeful things will change for the better this year.
“We hope to get back to winning ballgames,” said Richardson. “We want to compete every time we step on the field.”
The pitching staff is anchored by a pair of senior right-handers in Drew Creech and Cory Williams.
At the plate the Rebels will count on Creech, who will play first base when he isn’t pitching. Also, Chase Bowery (3b, Sr.) and senior center fielder Austin Monds are plate threats.
A lot of offensive production graduated, but head coach Clay Colley said his team should still be solid.
“We hope to be competitive in the conference this year,” Colley said. “We graduated about 90 percent of our offense, so we are working with a clean slate at the plate.”
The top hitters are expected to be Trey Sells (cf., Jr.), Isaac Hood (2B, Jr.) and Zac Winstead (rf, Jr.).
On the mound, Central will call on Sells, a lefty, along with Ethan Bombailey (RH) and the left-handed Winstead.
“We will look to improve day to day and give ourselves a chance for a good spot in the district tournament and hopefully make some noise there,” said Colley.
Despite the trial of having to play home games away from the school because of flooding, head coach Brad Hill remained optimistic about this year’s squad.
“We’re hoping to compete for a regional berth while also developing a good group of young talent,” Hill said.
The top weapons on the mound will be left-handed sophomore Travis Whitson and right-handed freshman Charlie Smith.
At the plate, the Warriors’ top threats include junior shortstop Jake Absher, senior first baseman Bart Wilson, and senior designated hitter Luke Naylor.
A pair of right handers will lead the way for the Longhorns’ pitching staff: senior Jayden Joiner and junior Ben Howard.
When Johnson County comes to bat, senior designated Reise Stout is expected to be a tough out. Howard, a utility man, and junior catcher Petie Pavusek are also threats to get things moving at the plate.
“We hope to get better as the season progresses,” said head coach Pete Pavusek, who enters his 24th year leading the Longhorns and has a total of 323 wins.