Some of the top players and teams in North Carolina high school baseball will be trying to add hardware to their trophy cases this weekend in the 95th annual North Carolina High School Athletic Association state baseball championship series.
The 2-A and 3-A series will get underway on Friday at Doak Field on the campus of North Carolina State University, while the 1-A and 4-A classifications will get their series going on Friday at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, home of the minor league Carolina Mudcats. All the series are best-of-three games, and each of the teams in the finals survived best-of-three regional championship series.
At Five County Stadium, the first game on Friday will start the 1-A series in a battle between East Columbus (22-4) and South Stanly (23-8).
East Columbus is back in the finals for the first time since 2003, when the Gators lost to East Rutherford in two straight for the 2-A crown. East returned its entire squad from last year, when the senior-less Gators went 18-5 and got to the fourth round of the playoffs.
Skylar Bowen is 8-1 on the mound for the Gators with a 1.47 ERA and is also hitting .385.
South Stanly beat Murphy for the Western crown, winning a 19-8 slugfest in the third and deciding game. The torrid bat of Stephen Wallace, who is batting a hefty .458 with nine homers and 49 RBI, leads the Rowdy Rebel Bulls of South.
The 4-A championship has the Golden Hawks of Holly Springs (25-2) against Asheville's T.C. Roberson (25-5), with the first game Friday at 8 p.m. The Golden Hawks make their first visit to the state championship series while Roberson is in its sixth state baseball final, with three previous titles at the 3-A level in 1983, 2000 and 2002.
Roberson is a team with great power, led by the bats of Alex Ledford (17 HR, 62 RBI, .440 average) and Aaron Wright (11 HR, 40 RBI, .505 average). Holly Springs will counter with Carlos Rodon, who is 10-0 on the mound with a 1.40 ERA and 127 strikeouts while also hitting at a .375 clip.
The opening game at Doak Field on Friday will be in the 2-A series between perennial power East Rutherford (27-4) and Randleman (26-3) at 5 p.m. East Rutherford, the defending 2-A champion, is in the finals for the seventh time in the last 10 years, with additional state crowns in '02, '03, '04 and '07 to go with a runner-up finish in 2008. East was also a runner-up in 1996 so the Cavaliers are in the finals for the eighth time overall.
Randleman is in the championship for the second time but the first visit since finishing second in 1985. Junior infielder Dylan Richardson has been one of the Tiger leaders, with a .529 batting average to go with 10 homers and 38 RBI.
Derek Deaton of East Rutherford (8 homers, 38 RBI .464 average) was the South Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year this season and lefthander pitcher Tyler Jacobus is 13-0 on the mound for the Cavaliers.
The 3-A series sends Northeast Guilford (29-1) against Belmont South Point (25-2). The Red Raiders of South Point, who opened the season with 16 straight wins, seek their second NCHSAA baseball crown but first since 1981, and South Point's most recent trip to the finals was 1994. Northeast is in the finals for the fourth time but first time since 1967, during a period in which Northeast won two titles and finished second once in the 2-A classification.
Northeast has a one-two punch at the plate of Jaylin Davis (10 homers, .509 average) and Johnny Brown (10 homers, .506 average). The Rams have slugged 89 home runs during the past two seasons. South Point has thrived on pitching and defense, as the Red Raiders have gotten great mound work from Jeffrey Springs (10-0, 1.02 ERA) and Logan Walden (11-0, 1.23 ERA). Spencer Wiles leads the Red Raiders at the plate (6 homers, 24 RBI, .449 average).
The Raleigh Sports Consortium and Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau are serving as host city sponsors for the Raleigh games. Wendy’s is the presenting sponsor of the NCHSAA sports program.