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D-B, ranked eighth nationally, overwhelming favorite in Big 9

BILL LANE • Mar 11, 2007 at 10:12 AM

With 12 seniors who have contributed to an aggregate 29-1 Big 9 Conference record, two league championships and three region titles, Dobyns-Bennett is an overwhelming selection to win the regular-season title again.

Featuring catcher Derek Trent, who has been tabbed a preseason All-American by the Collegiate Baseball newspaper, heads the returnees along with fireballing pitchers Bo Burton and Tyler Joyce.

Trent was honored by another media source last year as an All-American.

The Indians, who went 33-6 last spring, are ranked No. 8 nationally in Collegiate Baseball's preseason poll.

Expected to give the Indians a run for the money is longtime nemesis Science Hill.

Rounding out the conference poll, respectively, are Sullivan East, Daniel Boone, Sullivan South, Tennessee High, Sullivan Central, Volunteer and David Crockett.

The season opens Monday.

Here is a capsule look at the conference teams:


"We are a seasoned team but know our league has at least three other seasoned ballclubs that are senior-dominated as well,'' D-B coach Mike Ritz said.

D-B outfielder Wesley Lane was Northeast Tennessee's Player of the Year after batting .436 last spring.

Trent, the District 1 tournament's Most Valuable Player, batted .440.

Burton, who'll pitch and play third base, went 8-0 on the mound. Joyce, who also will see action at third, fashioned a 9-2 record.

Other top returnees are infielder Jordan Adams, outfielders Wesley Jones and Easton Ring, and shortstop Jamie Crawford. Adams batted .374 and Jones hit .354.

Ritz is looking for good things from pitchers Lucas Henderson and Ryan Hammonds, catcher/outfielder Lane Taylor and infielders Aaron Marsh, Darin Trent and David Atchley.

Trent and Burton have signed scholarships with East Tennessee State.

Hitting has always been a trademark of Ritz-coached team and the 2007 edition of the Indians should be no exception.

D-B was ambushed by eventual state champion Farragut in the TSSAA sectional a year ago.

Geared up for a return trip to the state tournament, the Hilltoppers have catcher Matt Rice, a Louisville Slugger All-America second-teamer, and ironman pitcher/first baseman Paul Hoilman heading their list of eight standouts.

"We have four quality pitchers returning,'' coach Bill McKinney said. "If we can hit consistently and have a couple of young kids step up, we could have some success.''

Pitcher Chas Byrne is back, along with pitcher/outfielder Zach Howell, middle infielder Preston Byrd, outfielder John Barcel, third baseman Trey Worley and pitcher Lucas Anderson.

The 'Toppers have versatility in pitcher/catcher/outfielder Benjamin McKinney and two other solid prospects in pitcher/infielder Nathaniel Patterson and middle infielder Lance Reed.

Four of Science Hill's players have already signed college scholarships - Rice with Western Kentucky, Hoilman and Byrne with ETSU, and Howell with Carson-Newman.

Science Hill, after placing second in District 1 and Region 1, managed to find its way to the state tourney site.

The Patriots have a strong nucleus with seven veteran players. They have experience hands in outfielder/pitcher Logan Bowers, first baseman Christian Taylor, pitcher/second baseman Jason Trivett, shortstop/pitcher Myles Key, third baseman Matt Shepherd, outfielder Chris Colley and pitcher/catcher/first baseman Brooks Graham.

Coach Mike Breuninger is counting heavily on catcher Tyler Crowder, utility man Tyler Gaby, outfielder Dustin Bowery and pitcher/first baseman Bradley Rush to come through and fill in the gaps.

"With 11 seniors returning, it could be a strong year for us,'' Breuninger said.

Having seven experienced players is enough to make the Trailblazers an obstacle in the path of their opponents. Because one of these is Dylan Pratt, hurlers needed to be cautious with every pitch.

Dylan, the Big 9's Player of the Year in 2006, swatted 15 homers and drove in 41 runs while batting a lofty .506. His on-base percentage was a remarkable .667.

Most of his homers came early in the season. After word of Pratt's mighty swing got around, a lot of intentional walks followed.

To raise his value as a college and professional prospect and solidify Boone's battery, he has been moved from first base to catcher.

Coach Rob Hoover will build the team around Pratt, second baseman Dustin Ford, outfielder/pitcher Josh Aldridge, shortstop/pitcher Nick Caldwell, first baseman Jordan Bowser and pitchers Tyler Statzer and Zac Breedlove.

Joining them on the lineup card will be Nick Jones, Mitch Masters, Cody Powell, Ryan Strouth, Ben Underwood and Jeremy Hood.

"We will rely on the experience that our seniors have gained,'' Hoover said. "The experience they have attained will be key in playing in a very competitive league.''

"We are excited about this season and look forward to seeing all the players improve as it goes along,'' coach Anthony Richardson said. "We have a chance to be better than last year but the league is going to be much stronger. We may struggle early because of inexperience at several positions. But come tournament time, we expect to be right there in the mix for a chance to advance to the regional.''

South's leading returnees from a 19-15 team are pitcher/first baseman Josh Bedingfield, first baseman/pitcher Seth Pearson, outfielder/pitcher Tyler Ball, pitcher Weston Carr, catcher Ben Daniels and shortstop Seth Johnson.

Carr was 5-1 on the mound, Bedingfield 3-1 and Ball 4-3. Johnson batted .360, Ball .350, Daniels .340 and Pearson .313, with four homers.

Impressive newcomers are Jordan Kitzmiller in center field, Justin Crawford at second base, Taylor Sewell in right field, Ben Begley at third base, Kaleb Kitzmiller in the outfield and Stephen Owenby and Tristan Archer on the mound.

"We will be solid defensively,'' Richardson said. "We return three of our top four pitchers from last year.

"Offensively, we could be better. The newcomers are capable of being more productive than the players they're replacing. If we bunt well and the run the bases aggressively, we will be successful.''

David Halstead sees his Vikings posing a threat to the competition if a few things fall into place.

"We hope to be more competitive this year,'' he said. "We have to rebuild our middle defense, be consistent at pitcher and score runners when they get on base.''

Third baseman Kyle Booher is the Vikings' marquee player, topping a list that includes second baseman Benji Sharrett, first baseman Jerry Skeens, right fielder Corey Strickland and designated hitter Andrew Taylor.

Booher was one of the Big 9's best players a year ago. He belted 11 homers and 11 doubles and knocked in 40 runs while batting .431. Strickland accounted for 11 doubles. Taylor batted .326 and had five homers and six doubles with 19 RBIs.

Frontline pitchers are Brandon Bowers (2-4, 3.91 ERA), Jon Krebs (3-1), Will Scheuer (2-1, 3.62 ERA), Taylor (1-1) and Chris Boyd (2-1).

Bidding for starting positions are outfielder Storm Ketron, middle infielder Skyler Shope, pitcher Will Diviac and pitcher/outfielder Grant Walters.

The Cougars' seven-player core could enable the team to make some noise before the season ends.

While short on pitching, Brandon Krantz is hoping hard work and senior leadership can transform his team into at least a dark horse in the conference race.

Returnees are outfielder/pitcher Zach Nussman, first baseman Will Leonard, center fielder Justin Presnell, shortstop Carl Roberts, third baseman Cody Hyden, outfielder/pitcher Peter Moliran and pitcher Justin Hess.

Leonard was a clutch player in 2006, batting .407 and driving home 40 runs. Nussman hit .390, Roberts .370 and Presnell .350. Roberts had 20 stolen bases and Presnell got 15.

Moliran's pitching record was 5-2 and his ERA 3.40.

Also penciled in for playing time are second baseman Jeremy McMurray, catcher Gary McMurray, utility man Tyler DeVault and outfielder Drew McLaughlin.

"If this team continues to work hard and gets good leadership,'' Krantz said, "we could have a good year. We have a good mixture of youth and veterans and they all get along. They are fun to be around.''

One word describes the Falcons. "Young!'' new coach Travis Free explained emphatically.

"We will have six or seven sophomores on the field at one time,'' Free said. "These kids are talented but we will have to learn from our mistakes. Our three seniors will have to show leadership for us to be successful.''

Pitcher/infielder Matt Fleenor, a player many coaches around the conference would like to have, should set an example for the other Falcons to follow.

"Matt has started three years and will be an impact player,'' Free said.

First baseman/third baseman Jake Parker, a sophomore, is next in line with varsity experience.

Shaun Arnold, a senior transfer, will be a contributor at both hitting and pitching.

Other sophomores playing vital roles will be catcher Tyler Hutson, pitcher/outfielder Dylan Christian, infielder/pitcher Dylan Frazier and pitcher Cody Byington, whose numbers may determine the team's success.

Derek Shaffer, the only junior, will appear in various situations.

The cupboard is almost bare in Jonesborough after a banner year. There are no full-time starters back - just four players with a sprinkling of varsity experience.

"We are very young, talented and inexperienced,'' coach Scott Hagy said. "If we continue to work hard and play hard, good things will happen for us.''

Those with some experience are catcher Alex Broyles, shortstop Eric Richardson, pitcher Barry Van Delinder and pitcher Josh Tester.

Completing the lineup will be newcomers Brandon Massey (3b/p), Josh Greer (2b), Jamie Copas (p/utility), Ben Wright (of) and Clint Freeman (p/of).

Crockett has a history of developing into a sound team by tourney time.

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