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Teams have high diamond hopes
LOFTY RANKING FOR THE KNIGHTS. Justin Shannonhouse and the Northern Nash Knights are ranked in the Top 10 in www.impactbaseball.com's Class 3-A state preseason poll. Northern is coached by Al Carter. (Graphic photo by Geoff Neville)
ROCKY MOUNT - Sometimes those who are supposed to know it all, really don't know it all. But on the odd occasion, they hit it right on the nose.

Will the NEW 6 3-A Conference baseball coaches get it right in 2007? We'll have to see.

As varsity play on the diamond begins in earnest next week, the league's head coaches voted on who is going to come out on top when the dust settles in May.

The coaches almost got it right last season. Northern Nash got five first place votes as the choice to finish on top. And the Knights had their chances.

They faced Rocky Mount in the final regular season contest to force a tie for the league championship. Then, a southpaw named Ryan Waldrep who was virtually unknown before the season started, threw a complete-game shutout to give Rocky Mount the title.

But Waldrep, now a junior, has transferred to South Brunswick. And Northern has again been picked to win the league's title. All it needs is for some other Gryphon to pop up out of nowhere and be the spoiler, yet again.

The Knights, just as they did in 2006, received five first place votes and 25 points overall to land in first place. Rocky Mount got the other first place vote and finished second with 20 pts. Wilson Fike came in third with 15 points, followed by NEW 6 Tournament champion Southern Nash with 12.5 points. Nash Central, which was picked last year and ended up in third, got 11.5 points for fifth place. SouthWest Edgecombe got five last place votes to tally five points.

Incidentally, the Firebirds will not have a chance to defend their tournament title. Due to an expanded playoff format this season (64 teams), there wasn't an extra week in the schedule to play a tournament.

The Knights, who got a No. 4 ranking in the recently released ImpactBaseball.com 3-A preseason prep poll, on paper have a lot of talent in their senior-laddened squad. But head coach Al Carter is beginning think his squad has turned into a MASH unit.

With senior returnees Deseray Rosser and Thomas still nursing injuries from football, first-year catcher Tyler Clark suffered a nasty cut to the face during the Knights' scrimmage last Saturday.

The one wish all the coaches have is to not repeat the league's playoff performance of last year - now known as Black Tuesday. All four qualifying teams (all with 16 wins or more) lost their first round playoff games on that fateful day.

1. Northern Nash (5) 25pts.
2. Rocky Mount (1) 20 pts.
3. Fike 15 pts.
4. Southern Nash 12.5 pts.
5. Nash Central 11.5 pts.
6. SW Edgecombe 5 pts.

For a look at the 2007 NEW 6 squads, check out the following capsules on each team:

· Head coach - Stacey Alston (5th season - 24-51 at NC)
· 2006 record - 17-10, 5-5
· Returning starters - 6
· Biggest weakness - early season injuries (missing Eric Moore), youth didn't get alot of innings
· Biggest strength - experience of returning players, pitching as the season progresses
· Probable Opening Day Starters:

C - Alex Pearce, Jr.
1B - Tyler Morgan, Jr.
2B - Blake Gosselin, Jr.
SS - Justin Murray, Sr.
3B - Drew Fairman, Sr.
LF - Tyler Hicks, Sr.
CF - Xavier Macklin, Jr.
RF - T.J. Taylor, Fr..
P - Cody High, Sr.

· Head coach - Al Carter (7th season - 61-75 at NN)
· 2006 record - 18-9, 8-2
· Returning starters - 7
· Biggest weakness - health - several starters will begin the season on the shelf
· Biggest strength - senior leadership, pitching
· Probable Opening Day Starters:

C - Tyler Clark, Soph.
1B - Tyler Joyner, Soph.
2B - Justin Shannonhouse, Jr.
SS - Andrew Webb, Sr.
3B - Jason Gay, Sr.
LF - Jeremy Proctor, Soph.
CF - Daniel Moore, Sr..
RF - Thomas Sykes, Sr.
P - Zach Woodley, Sr.

· Head coach - Pat Smith (5th season, 55-43 at RM)
· 2006 Record - 19-6, 9-1
· Returning starters - 6
· Biggest weakness - depth of personnel, little competition of positions
· Biggest strength - returning starting pitching
· Probable Opening Day Starters:

C - Ben Fish, Soph.
1B - Chad Womble, Sr.
2B - Grant Johnson, Jr.
SS - Dillon Cockrell, Soph.
3B - Chris Berry, Jr.
LF - William Barringer, Jr.
CF - Brian Goodwin, Soph.
RF - undecided at press time
P - Jim Leggett, Jr/Womble, Sr..

· Head coach - Jeff Flowers (5th season)
· 2006 record - 16-10, 4-6
· Returning starters - 5
· Biggest weakness - lack of pitching, loss of team speed
· Biggest strength - team defense - good catcher and middle infield
· Opening Day Probable Starters:

C - Brian Allen, Sr..
1B - Brad Garris, Jr.
2B - Jake Austin, Sr.
SS - Bret Allen, Soph..
3B - Will Etheridge, Sr.
LF - Jessie Mercer, Sr.
CF - Ben Wilson, Sr.
RF - Chris Pace, Sr.
P - Brian Graley, Sr.

· Head coach - Bruce Rhodes (13th season - 216-123 at SWE)
· 2006 record - 7-17, 0-10
· Returning starters - 5
· Biggest weakness - hitting
· Biggest strength - three "decent'' pitchers
· Opening Day Probable Starters:

C - Jordan Baker, Jr.
1B - Thomas Tolson, Soph.
2B - Timmy Riggs, Jr.
SS - Brad Lewis, Sr.
3B - Justin Edmondson, Soph.
LF - Demetrius Randolph, Jr.
CF - Scott Tharrington, Jr.
RF - Johnnie Jack Webb, Sr.
P - Patrick Goodwyn, Sr.

· Head Coach - Will Flowers (25th season - 320-245-1 at WF)
· 2006 Record - 13-11, 4-6
· Returning Starters - 7
· Biggest weakness - getting key hits last year
· Biggest strength - experience
· Opening Day Probable Starters:

C - Zack Crumpler, Jr.
1B - Thomas Moore, Sr.
2B - Matthew Pittman, Jr.
SS - William Prince, Fr.
3B - Tripp Sauls, Soph./Mitchell Wheeler, Fr.
LF - Michael Brown, Soph.
CF - David Gibbons, Soph.
RF - Jacob Davis, Jr.
P - Bentley Massey, Jr.

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