Baseball teams poised to make strong playoff runs

by Aaron Garcia

The N.C. High School Athletic Association baseball playoffs officially begin on Friday, May 11, and several Union County teams have the talent to make deep runs into the postseason. Here’s a breakdown of which teams will be competing for state titles when the action begins.

SOUTHERN CAROLINA 3A/4A CONFERENCE

At the beginning of the season, Marvin Ridge coach Mark Mennitt said that, despite replacing all but one starter in star Tyler Chadwick, his club would not use its youth and inexperience as an excuse.

The fact remained, however, that the lineup was brimming with inexperience and seemed a far cry from the team that advanced all the way to last year’s Western Regional series against Belmont South Point.

On May 7, though, the Mavs edged rival Weddington, 3-2, for the Southern Carolina 3A/4A conferene tournament title. The championship highlighted ­perhaps Marvin Ridge’s best season in its history, as the team set a school record for wins (22) while only dropping four games. Furthermore, the Mavs also clinched the league regular-season crown with a 14-1 record.

The Mavs have used small ball, solid pitching and a defense Mennitt calls “the best I’ve ever coached” to succeed, and all those attributes could translate well to the postseason.

“I think we have our style and our kids believe in what we’re trying to do,” said Mennitt. “We’re fortunate to be where we are and hopefully we can continue that in the playoff season.”

Marvin Ridge is slated to begin the playoffs on Friday, May 11, against South Rowan (15-9).

Despite the loss, Weddington enters the playoffs as one of the top No. 2 seeds in the Class 3A bracket. With a battery of talented players such as Andrew Knight, Jeremy Schellhorn and Andrew Bostic, the Warriors are a threat to venture deep into the postseason and should give visiting West Rowan (11-13) fits in the first round. With a 9-15 mark, Parkwood also qualified for the playoffs and will face China Grove’s Carson High (17-9).

Sun Valley earned the league’s top 4A seed with a 12-13 record and will host Lake Norman (13-9). Though Porter Ridge lost its final seven games, the Pirates qualified for the 4A playoffs with an 8-17 record, which earned them a date with Cornelius’ Hough High (17-10).

ROCKY RIVER 1A/2A CONFERENCE

The Cuthbertson Cavaliers wrapped up both the Rocky River 1A/2A conference’s regular-season and tournament titles again this year, marking the second consecutive season they’ve done so. In fact, in their six chances to win either a conference regular-season or tournament title since opening in the fall of 2010, the Cavs have failed only once; they finished runners-up to Piedmont in the regular-season race in 2010.

This may be the Cavs’ strongest team yet. Cuthbertson has a realistic shot at bringing home the program’s first state title, thanks to a stable of sturdy seniors. That group includes catcher John Mangum (.284 batting average), pitcher/outfielder Cameron Tekker (4-1 record, 0.47 ERA on the mound, .391 batting average) and shortstop J.D. Long (.354 batting average), as well as a host of game-changing newcomers headlined by Andrew Hendel (4-0 record, 1.21 ERA pitching, team-high 19 RBIs at the plate).

Cavs coach Travis Little said that while his team might have done enough to earn the state’s top Class 2A playoff seed with a 23-3 overall record, the one-and-done format of the first four rounds of the playoffs serves as an equalizer for the lesser teams in the postseason, which means his own squad can’t take any opponent lightly, including first-round foe Central Davidson (11-12). The two teams elected to play on May 10.

“The moral of the story is: I like our depth, I like the idea that we can make a nice run in the tournament, I like our talent and the coachability of our guys,” said Little. “But at the same time, it’s scary to know that in the first four rounds, you’re not awarded one mistake.”

Though they started the season 1-7, the Piedmont Panthers challenged Cuthbertson for both the league’s regular-season and conference tournament titles and are playing much better than their current 13-14 record suggests. They host Salisbury (9-17) on Friday, May 11. Forest Hills (14-10), which earned the final 2A seed from the Rocky River 1A/2A, is scheduled to open postseason play against Western Davidson (17-9).

Central Academy of Technology & Arts earned the league’s top Class 1A seed with a 6-12 overall record, thanks to a pair of wins over Union Academy (8-14). CATA will open the state playoffs by hosting North Rowan (10-12), while Union Academy, led by sweet-swinging sophomore Chandler Musselwhite, will host East Montgomery (14-11).

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