Johnson City Press: University High heads the Watauga Valley baseball pack
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University High heads the Watauga Valley baseball pack

Douglas Fritz • Mar 17, 2019 at 5:57 PM

Coming off an appearance in the Class A state tournament and returning key players, University High is favored to win the Watauga Valley Conference title.

The Buccaneers’ biggest challengers should be Unaka, North Greene and Sullivan North — with Hampton also in the mix. Cloudland will have to scrap hard for league wins.

Watauga Valley Conference predictions

1. University High

2. Unaka

3. Sullivan North

4. North Greene

5. Hampton

6. Cloudland

UNIVERSITY HIGH

A solid three-deep starting rotation gives the Buccaneers an edge.

Carter Pollock (RH, Sr.), Brant Hare (LH, Jr.) and Kaleb Meredith (LH, So.) are all good arms. Esau Byrd (RH, Sr.) adds to the mix in relief.

At the plate, Pollock (2B), senior shortstop Michael Degennaro, and Hare (1B) will lead the way.

“Our goal this season is to replace six starters from last year’s team and set ourselves up for another trip to Murfreesboro,” said head coach Josh Petty. “I feel confident we have the players to step in and replace that talented bunch from last year.”

UNAKA

With seniors John Ramsey and Bryson Street heading the pitching rotation, the Rangers should be tough in league games.

Ramsey is a right-hander while Street is a lefty.

Street and Ramsey are also among the top sticks in the lineup, along with senior Davy Ensor and junior Daniel Ensor.

“We have a team mixed with youth and veteran leaders,” said head coach Tee Blevins. “Our team goal is to be better every time we step on the field. Everyone lost key pieces from last year, so how people develop throughout the year will be key in how the standings will end up.”

SULLIVAN NORTH

Head coach Steve Dixon said he likes his team’s chances this season.

“I feel like after getting some field time and live at-bats, we should be able to compete with anybody in this conference,” said Dixon. “This is a very good baseball conference with good pitching and great coaches.”

The top returning pitchers are Braydon Wilhoit (RH, Jr.) and senior right-hander Hunter Dingus.

In the every-day lineup, Dixon said he will rely on Wilhoit, senior Zack Scott, sophomore Tyler Depriest and Dingus.

HAMPTON

Head coach Nick Perkins said the Bulldogs are looking good.

“We like our ball club, but we need to get everyone healthy and have some kids make big jumps in 2019 in regard to their production,” Perkins said. “We know we must hit the ball better this season, and like every baseball team in the country, our pitching staff must execute quality pitches.”

Leading the way at the plate is three-sport star Caleb Oaks. He is complemented in the batting order by Dalton Rouse and sophomore Josh Owens. Those players will hit 3, 4, 5 in the order, respectively.

A left-handed junior, Rouse will anchor what otherwise will be a “Johnny All Staff” approach to the pitching rotation. However, Rouse is currently sidelined with tendinitis.

“This is a good little baseball conference,” said Perkins. “Many teams have historically had strong baseball programs. We respect every team in the conference.”

CLOUDLAND

Senior Dillion Johnson is the main man for the Highlanders.

“When he has the ball on the mound, we have a chance to win any game we play,” said head coach Cory Rhodes. “When he gets rolling our team gets rolling.”

Joining Johnson at the top of the pitching rotation is junior Elisha Guinn.

The leading hitters behind Johnson are Brayden Christman and Collin Morgan. Christman is a senior, while Morgan is a freshman.

“We hope to compete and put full games together,” said Rhodes. “A goal we have set is to be the third seed headed into the district tournament this year.”

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