Unicoi County and Elizabethton appear to be at the head of the class. From spots three through seven, it should be a day-to-day battle.
Three Rivers Conference
1. Unicoi County
3. Sullivan South
4. Sullivan East
5. Sullivan Central
6. Happy Valley
7. Johnson County
Here’s a preview look at each of the seven teams:
Tagged as one of the teams to beat in league play, the Cyclones enter the year with high hopes.
“I’m very excited to see what these young men can build on last year’s success,” said head coach Ryan Presnell. “I guarantee they will always play as hard as they can and as classy as they can.”
Leading the way for the Cyclones’ staff will be senior Tre Shoun and junior Matthew Dailey. They will be complemented by sophomore Evan Carter and junior closer Corey Russell.
AT THE PLATE
Elizabethton can put a formidable batting order together. Leading the way are Ethan Eggleston and Carter.
Other good sticks include Russell along with seniors Logan Estep and Ryan Wetzel.
Junior Lawson Wagner and sophomore Karson Dillard are utility players who Presnell said should make significant contributions.
Head coach Brad Hill said the Warriors have shown some preseason signs for a promising year.
“We have a good mix of senior leadership and young talent,” said Hill. “I’m excited about the opportunity that is ahead of us.
“We are going to need someone to step up at the plate and be a run producer as we graduated our top two RBI leaders from last year. It will have to come from one of our young players, or a junior/senior who wasn’t in that role last year.”
At the head of the staff are seniors Kevin Whitaker and Nolan Easlic.
“Nolan has looked really good in our scrimmages,” said Hill. “Kevin is just getting back from basketball, so we'll bring him along slowly.”
HV IN THE BOX
Shortstop Will Hampton returns after hitting .420 last year from his leadoff position.
Also back in the mix is senior first baseman Landon Morefield, who led the Warriors in homers last season. Easlic is also expected to be a threat at the plate.
The standout is catcher Bailey Conley, who is a third-year starter.
“He does an outstanding job receiving and blocking,” said Hill.
Like most coaches at this time of year, Pete Pavusek is hoping for the season to change. It tends to take a little longer in Mountain City than in other places.
“We’re looking forward to nice weather and being outside,” said Pavusek. “That will help with consistency.”
Leading the way at the plate are seniors Shane Greer and Bud Icenhour, junior Reise Stout, sophomore Petie Pavusek, and junior Weston Throop.
“Greer is trying to improve on last year’s .385 average,” said Pavusek.
Jayden Joiner, a junior, is at the front of the line for the Longhorns’ hurlers.
“Jayden is looking to be a standout pitcher in the conference,” said Pavusek.
Senior Josh Tierney is also in the mix.
Senior Johnnie Arnold should help the pitchers as a defensive utility ace with the ability to play any position. Arnold will even pitch some.
Coach Clay Colley said he wants 2018 to look like day compared to 2017’s night.
“We are looking for a big turnaround,” said Colley. “We had an abysmal season last year, and never could get anything going.
“This year we want to rebuild and look for success hitting the baseball more than anything. We struggled last year stringing together hits, so that has been a focus during the offseason.”
Seniors Noah Vaughan and Blake Lucas lead the way on the bump. Lucas is headed to play at Milligan College next season.
“I believe we can throw strikes and make plays, we just have to support them with runs,” said Colley.
IN THE BOX
Leading the way is Parker Mumpower, a senior who has committed to Milligan.
Senior Matt Long, Vaughan, and sophomore Trey Sells are also threats at the plate.
Sells, who started as a freshman, is the standout in center field.
Also providing quality glove work are Long in left field and Mumpower, a fourth-year starter at catcher.
Gone are 11 seniors from last year’s team, but the Patriots still have hopes for a good season.
“Even though we are inexperienced in several areas, we feel like the potential is there to be competitive,” said head coach Mike Breuninger. “How fast that happens, we will see.”
The pitching staff was hit particularly hard by graduation, leaving sophomore Perry Casaday in the forefront.
“He is the only pitcher with several innings of varsity experience,” said Breuninger. “At this point, we are not sure who will be pitching most of the innings.”
Center fielder Elias Arnold, a senior, will be among the Patriots trying to get things done at the dish. Junior second baseman Eli Milhorn is also in that mix.
“Those are the only position players who started on a regular basis last year,” said Breuninger.
“We feel good up the middle with Arnold and Milhorn, and Casaday at shortstop,” said Breuninger.
Finding a way to get older in a hurry will be an important part of the Rebels’ approach this year.
“We’re very inexperienced,” said head coach Anthony Richardson. “The starting lineup will have someone new at every position. But it’s a great group to be around. They work hard and expect to get better every time they go out.”
Juniors Drew Creech and Cory Williams step into key roles on the staff.
“They are the only ones who have thrown varsity innings,” said Richardson.
Senior shortstop Marcus Williams will be counted on for hitting along with junior center fielder Austin Monds.
Junior first baseman Chase Bowery is also a part of the stick mix.
South will rely on junior catcher James Seto to handle the inexperienced staff and keep baserunners honest.
One place where the Blue Devils get a head start on most teams is on the mound with seniors Clay Simpson and Caleb Wilson.
“Caleb and Clay bring a good amount of experience to the mound,” said UC head coach Chad Gillis. “They are two very different pitchers who will throw most of the Monday and Tuesday games. Caleb is a crafty lefty who can spot it up. Clay can overpower hitters and has developed a sharp breaking ball.”
Unicoi can send some sticks to the plate. Leading the way is senior Owen Nicholson. He’s followed by Wilson, seniors Troy Podvin and Hunter Higgins, and junior Garrett Manuel.
Nicholson, the Blue Devils’ shortstop, is the defensive standout.
“We have six starters returning and five good arms on the mound,” said Gills.