Three Teams to Watch:
1-Ringgold. The Tigers return eight starters off last season's 19-9 team that reached the second round of the Class AAA playoffs, led by college signees Slade Dale and Logan Baldwin and what could be a deep pitching staff.
2-Northwest Whitfield. The Bruins have several positions to fill but still have lots of star power in pitcher Seth Pierce, infielders Edwin Hernandez and Diego Peralta and super utility Andy Whisenant.
3-Gordon Lee. The Class A runner-up Trojans will have a difficult time reaching the 30-win plateau again but with a pitching staff led by Conard Broom and Jake Rogers they should be in the thick of things in Region 6.
Three Players to Watch:
1-Slade Dale, Ringgold. The University of Georgia signee will look to build on his numbers of last season -- .405 batting average, 33 RBIs, 18 doubles and 14 stolen bases -- and will likely get more chances to drive in runs this season for the Tigers.
2-Seth Pierce, Northwest Whitfield. The right-handed pitcher, still just a junior, is dominating at times and posted a 1.77 ERA and 98 strikeouts while only allowing 49 hits in 71 innings last season. He will also be counted on more in the lineup after hitting .340.
3-Conard Broom, Gordon Lee. The side-arming right-hander is coming off a 13-1 season in which he had a 1.25 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 78 innings and word is he's added a couple miles-an-hour to his sinking fastball.
One of the fun things the rail birds at Gordon Lee High School baseball games enjoyed doing during last season's magical run to the Class A championship was debate on when THE inning was going to happen.
It was inevitable that the 30-4 Trojans were going to erupt in at least one frame. Coach Mike Dunfee lost count of the number of times his senior-laden lineup batted around. As the 2014 season gets underway this week, he wishes he could have saved a few of those runs.
"We might be playing for that one run instead of going for six this year," Dunfee laughed. "We're losing eight of our nine top hitters, so we'll have a different approach at the plate."
Now, before you write the Trojans off as one-year wonders, Dunfee has a warning.
"We're not rebuilding," he said. "Part of our success last year was in our depth, and we've got several quality kids who have been waiting their turn and our pitching staff will be solid."
It all starts with junior ace Conard Broom, the rubber-armed right-hander who was 13-1 a year ago and is getting strong college looks from the likes of Georgia and Georgia Tech. Sophomores Jake Rogers and Tucker Bradley and senior Zach Cobb also return on a staff Dunfee says is nine-deep.
In addition, the coach welcomes freshman phenom Chaney Rogers to the staff. The lefty, also a dangerous power hitter, was the TravelBall Select Player of the Year as an eighth grader. Fellow freshman Ethan Clark and a pair of juniors -- Logan Peterson and Will Goodman -- also will help fill the void left by the graduation of longtime stars like Adam Vandiver, Conner Coakley, Tanner Sexton, Bay Wright and Branton Phillips.
The early-season experience will be quite different at Ringgold, where Brent Tucker welcomes back eight returning regulars, including shortstop Slade Dale, outfielder/pitcher Logan Baldwin and first baseman Zach Morris. The Tigers, unlike the Trojans, will spend the first part of the season trying to align their pitching staff, with only Baldwin back from last year's rotation.
"It's unusual at Ringgold, but right now our pitching is the biggest question mark," said Tucker, who pointed to a group including Morris, Devin Lancaster and Jordan Ransom as key pitching candidates. "We have a lot of talent on the mound but they're going to have to grow up during the season. In the past few seasons I've known our guys could go seven to eight innings if needed, but this season I could see us using seven or eight pitchers in different roles."