2023 high school baseball preview: Kings Mountain, Burns, Cherryville, East Lincoln and Lincoln Charter are favorites in 4 local leagues

By Richard Walker

There was a changing of the guard last year in area high school baseball.

And, yet, even as there was a change with Burns and Kings Mountain claiming their first titles in many years, the area’s most prominent program (Cherryville) remained the last team standing as a N.C. 1A runner-up.

This season, those same three teams along with East Lincoln and Lincoln Charter are again expected to be among the area’s top baseball teams as the 2023 season gets underway on Monday.

Kings Mountain is a near unanimous favorite to repeat in the Big South 3A Conference, while Burns and Cherryville are co-favorites in the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A and East Lincoln (Western Foothills 3A) and Lincoln Charter (Catawba Shores 1A/2A) are favorites to win their respective leagues.

Kings Mountain won its first league title since 2009 and 15th in school history last spring and returns seven starters this season is hopes of the school’s first repeat title since it won the old Southwestern 3A in 1992 and 1993.

Burns won its first league title since 2015 last spring and returns four starters and comes off a summer in which the school’s Junior American Legion team won a state title.

Cherryville finished third in the ultra-competitive SPC last spring but got hot in the playoffs and advanced to the state finals before losing to Perquimans County in the Ironmen’s 15th state championship series or game in school history. Cherryville returns nine starters from that team this season.

East Lincoln finished in a three-way tie for third in the Western Foothills 3A Conference last season before advancing to the Western N.C. 3A finals and return five starters this season.

And Lincoln Charter finished as Catawba Shores 1A/2A champion last spring and returns six starters from a third-round state playoff team.

All coaches from the Big South 3A and Southern Piedmont 1A/2A responded and the full coaches’ preseason poll is as follows:

(Big South 3A)
1. Kings Mountain
2. Crest
3. South Point
4. North Gaston
5. Cramer
6. Forestview
7. Ashbrook
8. Huss

(Southern Piedmont 1A/2A)
1. (tie) Burns
1. (tie) Cherryville
3. East Gaston
4. Shelby
5. Highland Tech
6. Bessemer City
7. Thomas Jefferson

Here’s a look, by conference, at each team in Cleveland, Gaston at Lincoln counties:

Big South 3A

Coach: Josh Cobb (14th year, 96-175)
Assistant coaches: Rob Sisson, Jim Faulkner, Thomas Rhodes, Gabe Beverly, Dalton Towery, Peter Barney
Returning starters: 4
Starters lost: 5
2022 record: 10-14, 3-11
Returning players: C Johan Antonio, 1B Mannie Watkins, IF Jackson Sheehan, P Evan Valentine
Top newcomers: none listed
Season outlook: Ashbrook looks to make its first postseason appearance since 2016 and have the winning record for the first time since 2018.
All-time record: 557-583-3

Coach: Matt Scholz (3rd year, 16-21)
Assistant coaches: Chris Detweiler, Kelly Womack, Hank Rodkin, Eddie Womack, Kent Womack
Returning starters: 5
Starters lost: 4
2022 record: 10-13, 4-10
Returning players: P/IF Nathan Brittain, P Hunter Reavis, SS Ty Detweiler, OF Hunter Dye
Top newcomers: none listed
Season outlook: Brittain is a Campbell signee who will be one of the top pitchers in the league as the Storm pursues its first playoff berth and winning season since 2018.
All-time record: 68-118

Coach: Adam McFarland (2nd year, 17-8)
Assistant coaches: Brandon Powell, Patrick Bowman, Russell Hamrick, Julian Ridings
Returning starters: 4
Starters lost: 5
2022 record: 17-8, 11-3
Returning players: C Clayton Brown, P/3B Ryan Ropp, P/IF Tyler Smart, OF Javarius Green, P/IF Asher Smith, IF Ethan Hayes, OF Zack Rayfield, 1B Jude Stilwell, OF Malachi Addison, OF Jackson Wilson
Top newcomers: P/IF Parker Ramsey, OF Davonyae Pettis, 1B/P Brett Ledbetter, OF Houston Cook
Season outlook: Crest has made the state playoffs 15 straight times with six league titles and returns lots of talent in hopes of unseating Kings Mountain as league champion.
All-time record: 775-579-3

Coach: Justin Williams (2nd year, 12-11)
Assistant coaches: Jeff Parker, Garrett Sutton, Coty Phillips
Returning starters: 5
Starters lost: 4
2022 record: 12-11, 8-6
Returning players: C Carson Adams, P Josh Clanton, IF Rocco Pavone, P/IF Cooper Botts, P/IF Tripp Dow, IF Ethan Bray, OF Ty Davis
Top newcomers: P/OF Carter Roberts, P/IF Josiah Griffin
Season outlook: The Jaguars have had two straight winning records and the return of some experienced players give hope of a solid playoff-contending season.
All-time record: 291-247-1

Coach: Mike Micik (5th year, 3-55)
Assistant coaches: Lovell Gillispie, Troy Phillips, Scott Kimmel
Returning starters: 3
Starters lost: 6
2022 record: 1-19, 0-14
Returning players: OF De’Andre Ferguson, IF/P Alejandro Hernandez, OF Angel Silva, SS/P/C Benjamin Kimmel
Top newcomers: Lamarion Adams, Carson Revels, Evan Boyce, Sidney Whistine, Zion Whitworth, Brayon King Rhodes, Tydedrick Burton, Matt Brothers, Clifton “C.J.” Whitworth, Lance Gacusana, Ja’Varion Brown, Juan Serrano
Season outlook: Youthful team looks to turn around a program that has struggled mightily in recent years that includes a current 78-game Big South Conference regular season losing streak.
All-time record: 434-770-4

Kings Mountain
Coach: Brad Melton (5th year, 48-21)
Assistant coaches: Wil Sellers, Johnny Gamble
Returning starters: 7
Starters lost: 3
2022 record: 18-6, 12-2
Returning players: P/3B Zane Brockman, P Wyatt Davis, CF Jacob Hamrick, SS/2B Caleb Broome
Top newcomers: P/3B Colton Mayes, P/OF Brayden Patrick
Season outlook: Seven returning starters, including 2022 Big South pitcher of the year Brockman, 2-time all-conference outfielder Hamrick and all-conference infielder Broome, are reasons the Mountaineers are unanimous preseason league favorites.
All-time record: 743-643-2 since 1950 (1st known team is 1921)

North Gaston
Coach: Wes Hepler (4th year, 22-20)
Assistant coaches: Brent Mellon, Jordan Beaver, Austin Primm, Andrew Ray
Returning starters: 3
Starters lost: 6
2022 record: 11-11, 8-6
Returning players: P/IF Ashton Pope, SS Houston Rector, P/IF Wyatt McSwain
Top newcomers: P/IF Chase Ghantt
Season outlook: Youthful team – 13 of 26 in the program are freshmen – will look to gain experience in order to make 13th playoff appearance in 14 years.
All-time record: 622-486

South Point
Coach: Jason Lineberger (16th year, 263-99)
Assistant coaches: Kevin Withers, Austin Robinson, Bob Ratchford, Chris Ritchie, Robin Buchanan
Returning starters: 2
Starters lost: 8
2022 record: 15-8, 10-4
Returning players: Utility Dylan Owenby, P/C/3B Cam Ashe, CF Ezra Taylor, C/P Talan McConnell, P Gabe Wilder, P/OF Landon King, 1B Gavin Gibson, P Dalton Skipper
Top newcomers: IF/P Gavin Smith, IF/P Zeke Pruitt, IF/P Reid Wilson, OF Patrick Blee, Peyton McCarn
Season outlook: Youthful team could have multiple freshman in the starting lineup this season as South Point seeks 17th straight playoff appearance.
All-time record: 854-411

Southern Piedmont 1A/2A

Bessemer City
Coach: Matt Denham (2nd year, 4-16)
Assistant coaches: Rod Hayes, Austin Nixon
Returning starters: 9
Starters lost: 0
2022 record: 4-16, 3-9
Returning players: P/Utility Blake Splawn, P/Utility Caleb Summey, P/3B Nik Ellis, P/OF Jameer Holmes, IF Zack Badger, OF Jashawn Thomas, OF/1B Jaquon Thomas, P/IF Cole Richardson, Utility Jayden Borgo, 1B Dro Suarez, OF Karsen Bradshaw
Top newcomers: C/P/1B Cooper Hayes, OF Dakota Martin, 1B Preston Branch, OF Bradley Gladden, P/Utility Andrew Correa, IF/OF Daniel Christopher
Season outlook: The Yellow Jackets return all nine starters and will pursue the school’s first playoff appearance since 2018 and first winning record since 2009.
All-time record: 759-664 since 1946 (1st known team was 1931)

Coach: Alex Leonhardt (6th year, 62-37)
Assistant coaches: Chris White, Wade Walker, Mark Mackall, Brad Hoyle
Returning starters: 4
Starters lost: 5
2022 record: 22-4, 11-1
Returning players: OF Ben Mauney, C Reid Stroupe, SS Colby Putnam, 3B Josh Powell
Top newcomers: 1B Marshall McGowan, Utility Ethan Guy, OF/P Josh Taylor
Season outlook: Bulldogs lost 6 seniors and 5 starters from last year’s team but returns 4 starters from the school’s first league champoinship team since 2015.
All-time record: 508-611

Coach: Scott Heavner (18th year, 310-134)
Assistant coaches: Seth Freeman, Austin Treadway, Michael Whitesides, Brian Kiser
Returning starters: 9
Starters lost: 0
2022 record: 22-12, 8-4
Returning players: IF/P Kanon Willis, C Will Fowler, IF Landon Hahn, OF Will Heavner, 2B Collin Robinson, OF Chase Miller, 1B Tobias Miller, OF Collin Huss, P/OF Brayden Reynolds, P/IF Eli Newsome
Top newcomers: none listed
Season outlook: Nine returning starters that include three who have already made college commitments – Willis (Caldwell Tech), Huss (Cleveland Community College and Hahn (Belmont Abbey) – the Ironmen will look to return to the state finals.
All-time record: 1,061-471 since 1954 (1st known team was 1914)

East Gaston
Coach: Clint Jordan (1st year)
Assistant coaches: Nick Szot, Dozier Murray, Donald Efird
Returning starters: 3
Starters lost: 7
2022 record: 20-7, 10-2
Returning players: IF/OF Ben Summey, P/IF Elijah Sutherland, P/IF Bryce Benson, P/IF Gracen Mahadeo, OF K.B. Wright, OF Elijah Green, IF Christian Clark, P/OF Logan Teno, P/IF/OF Dylan Howell
Top newcomers: IF Sheldon Clark, OF Trip Abernathy, C/OF Chase Johnson, OF Brady Lamb, IF/P Dylan Wright
Season outlook: After a school-record 20 wins, the Warriors have three returning and a first-year head coach of enjoying more success.
All-time record: 592-520-3

Highland Tech
Coach: Kenneth Pasour (3rd year, 7-11)
Assistant coaches: Carl Beam, Tyler Glenn
Returning starters: 6
Starters lost: 3
2022 record: 7-16, 3-9
Returning players: C/OF Gavin Blackwood, C/IF/P Trey Costner, OF/IF/P Aiden Faust, SS/P Liam Fulbright, OF/P Kendell Hale, IF/P Wyatt Hardin, P/OF Russell Putnam, OF/IF Connor Redmond, IF/P Erwing Soza, IF/OF Alex Towe, IF/OF Ethan Wilson
Top newcomers: OF Brandon Rice
Season outlook: Youthful team seeks the Rams’ eighth playoff appearance in the past 10 seasons.
All-time record: 130-291

Coach: Chris Emery (11th year, 75-128)
Assistant coaches: Steve Gold, Jamie Dunaway, Charlie Ruff, John Daugherty
Returning starters: 6
Starters lost: 3
2022 record: 14-12, 7-5
Returning players: P Parker Dixon, P/IF Steven Spaes
Top newcomers: IF A.J. Carty, P/OF Eli Falls, P/IF Ryan McCracken, C Drew Dixon, OF/P Easton Davidson
Season outlook: Shelby is coming off its first playoff season and winning year since 2014 and has a pair of future collegians in Parker Dixon (Queens) and Spaes (Mars Hill) in hopes of more improvement this season.
All-time record: 1,031-777-4 since 1922 (1st known team in 1916)

Thomas Jefferson
Coach: Storm Mace (1st year)
Assistant coaches: Cam Miller, Kevin Helton, Darrel Keller
Returning starters: 6
Starters lost: not listed
2022 record: 1-15, 0-12
Returning players: OF/1B/P Ben Skelton, OF/1B/P Manny Schlichtmann, IF Jace Gibbon, OF/IF/C Holden Weatherford, C/OF Joseph Chapman
Top newcomers: OF/2B Landon Turner, 3B Alton Freeman, 2B Noah Wilkerson
Season outlook: First-year head coach will look to get the Gryphons into their first postseason appearance since 2015.
All-time record: 63-168-1


Western Foothills 3A

East Lincoln
Coach: Chris Matile (18th year, 265-150)
Assistant coaches: Josh Robinson, Dan Duckworth, Bill Erickson, Ryan Skellie, Garrett YOung, Neal Lunceford
Returning starters: 5
Starters lost: 4
2022 record: 21-8, 10-4
Returning players: 1B/P/OF Evan Matile, 3B/P Carson Dahle, IF/P Isaac Armstrong, IF Trey Spees, C Nathan Borchardt, OF Landon Burns
Top newcomers: Utility Aiden Tompkins, P Barret Erwin, C Dylan Scott
Season outlook: 5 returning starters for the Mustangs who are pursuing a 16th playoff berth in 17 years and are coming off their third Western regional appearance in school history.
All-time record: 687-507-1 since 1971 (1st year was 1968)

North Lincoln
Coach: Charlie Goss (2nd year, 20-7)
Assistant coaches: Jake Helms, Mike Sullivan, Mike Gardiner
Returning starters: 3
Starters lost: 6
2022 record: 20-7, 12-2
Returning players: C Maddux Walker, 1B/3B Josh Fox, CF Logan Sammons
Top newcomers: P Ty Goodson, IF Kaden Howard, IF Cason McGinnis
Season outlook: Knights have won four of the last seven league titles and have three returning starters from last year’s title team.
All-time record: 242-209-1

Catawba Valley 2A

Coach: Brad Gates (3rd year, 17-19)
Assistant coach: Erin Edwards
Returning starters: 5
Starters lost: 4
2022 record: 13-9, 11-3
Returning players: IF/P Will Blackburn, IF/P Garrett Hedgepeth, OF Caden Smith, IF/P Jacob Driggers
Top newcomers: IF/P Karson Cloninger, C/OF Nate Hovis, IF/OF Davian Johnson
Season outlook: Eley looks to build on the momentum of last year’s team, which had the school’s first winning season and made the first playoff berth since 2018.
All-time record: 525-675-1 since 1963 (1st known team is 1925)

West Lincoln
Coach: John Markley (6th year, 47-54)
Assistant coaches: Parker Chapman, Adam Fortenberry
Returning starters: 7
Starters lost: 2
2022 record: 10-14, 9-5
Returning players: IF/P Taylor Cook, IF/P Noah Gantt, IF/P Landon Jenkins, OF/P Jacob English, OF Evan Hartsoe, IF Zander Harrelson, OF/P Jordan Truesdale, OF Parker Warlick, C Caleb Carpenter
Top Newcomers: IF Colton Carpenter, C Drew Ponder, P Braden Helms
Season outlook: Youthful team gained valuable experience a year ago and will be poised to snap a 2-year playoff drought.
All-time record: 547-546-6 since 1973 (1st year was 1962)


Catawba Shores 1A/2A

Lincoln Charter
Coach: Scott Clark (8th year, 119-36)
Assistant coaches: Matt Stokes, Brandon Capps
Returning starters: 6
Starters lost: 3
2022 record: 20-5, 9-1
Returning players: OF/P Tyler Steele, 3B/P Matt Cipriano 2B/P/DH Donnie Davis, P/Utility Jacob Smith
Top newcomers: none listed
Season outlook: UNC-Greensboro commitment Steele and Wake Tech commitment Cipriano lead an experienced group seeking its 11th straight playoff berth.
All-time record: 207-89

Mountain Island Charter
Coach: Adam Grant (1st year)
2022 record: 7-13, 2-8
No information provided
All-time record: 54-64


Metro 8 1A

Piedmont Community Charter
Coach: Terry Radford (3rd year, 10-22)
Assistant coach: Ben Harris
Returning starters: 8
Starters lost: 1
2022 record: 10-10, 5-5
Returning players: P/1B Matt Taylor, C/P Chase Simonds, RF Davey Adams, 1B Caiden Jackman, P/SS/CF A.J. Davis, P/SS Aaron Owenby, 2B/SS Noah Sanders, 3B Siler Paige, CF/P Neal Christenberry, 2B/LF/C/P Chance Davis, 2B/RF Jacob Roberts, C/P/3B Brandon Walker, CF Cedric Hannibal
Top newcomers: OF/3B Maddox Paige, OF Emmanuel Velez, 2B Zeric Maney
Season outlook: Having eight returning starters back from last year’s playoff team give the Patriots hope of repeating and possibly moving up in the league standings.
All-time record: 13-96

Metrolina Athletic Conference

Gaston Christian
Coach: A.J. Main (6th year, 95-36)
2022 record: 8-11, 4-5
No information provided

Gaston Day
Coach: Chris Carrara (8th year, 33-85)
Assistant coaches: Troy Herterick, Steve Pressley, Alex Stutts, Brendon Battle
Returning starters: 7
Starters lost: 2
2022 record: 4-18, 0-10
Returning players: P/SS Jason Johnson, OF Colin Fayed, P/IF Elijah Pomeroy, P/OF Brody Smith
Top newcomers: none listed
Season outlook: 5 seniors will be expected to lead a team looking to build on the momentum of a third round state playoff appearance last season.