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The 2018 edition of the Wilson Tobs Varsity Classic has doubled in size sincce it began five years ago.
Traditionally a one-day event, this year’s high school baseball showcase will expand to two days and feature 14 teams, stretching as far west as Hillsborough Orange and as far east as Greenville, with J.H. Rose and D.H. Conley scheduled to make returns.
Four teams from The Wilson Times readership area also return, as Wilson Christian, Charles B. Aycock, Hunt and Fike will patrol the Fleming Stadium grass.
The action gets underway Friday at 2:30 p.m., with the Chargers of head coach Ty Bissett playing host to Wake County Home School, the latter of which plays its home games at Fleming.
A pair of 2-A programs face off at 5 when Nash Central opposes North Lenoir, and at 7:30, potent 1-A program Rosewood entertains the challenge of South Johnston.
Due to weather concerns Saturday, the start time for all four games have been pushed up an hour.
Hunt welcomes the Rose Rampants at 10 a.m., to be followed by CBA and Orange at 12:30. The 3 p.m. game features D.H. Conley taking on Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons, and in the nightcap, Fike faces Raleigh Sanderson.
Admission is $7, with discounts available for canned food donations as part of the Wilson Tobs Home Run For Hunger program. Gates open an hour prior to first pitch Friday and 30 minutes prior Saturday morning.
“This season’s High School Varsity Classic will feature baseball powerhouse teams ranging from Greenville to Raleigh,” Tobs general manager Mike Bell said in a prepared release. “With the increased popularity of the Classic, we have expanded the schedule to two full days and have gained interest from teams all over the state. We hope everyone comes out to this event to see some of the best high school baseball the state has to offer.”
It isn’t just lip service from Bell, according to early season MaxPreps rankings. As of Wednesday, Cardinal Gibbons was No. 2 in 4-A, with a quartet of 3-A teams led by No. 1 Rose carrying top-10 rankings into the event. CBA (No. 4) and Conley (No. 7) represent a stacked 3-A portion of the split 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference, while Fike enters at No. 10.
It’s been a rough start to 2018 for Wilson Christian (1-3), which has been outscored 31-3 in losses to Wilmington Christian, Raleigh Homeschool and Beddingfield. A 19-13 victory over Greenfield broke the string of defeats, but even that game was bathed in poor play by the Chargers. It gets no easier Friday against Wake County Homeschool (7-2), a common nonconference opponent for Bissett and the Chargers. Bissett noted that his team usually has double the amount games played by now, but inclement weather has kept his team off the field and in the gym. The scores to date, he contends, do not reflect Wilson Christian’s true ability. With a conference game at Raleigh Friendship Christian on Thursday, Bissett is unsure of his starter for Friday afternoon. Junior Zack Denmark has drawn three of WCA’s four starts to date, while offensively, the Chargers are hitting just .175 as a team. Bissett said WCA is hitting the ball, but at this point, gloves are waiting to make the play on defense.
“You can only do so much in a gym,” Bissett said. “That’s where we’re at. We’re hoping to get some good days here.”
For Hunt (5-3), Saturday’s meeting with the 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference Rampants will be the back end of a two-game series, weather permitting. The Warriors and Rampants are scheduled to play a Thursday game at Sid Boyette Field, mimicking the Big East Conference schedule now adhered to by Hunt.
Hunt, the defending Big East champion, has won two in a row, including a 12-5 win over Northern Nash in its conference opener.
The Warriors, hitting .317 as a team, are led offensively by senior Matt Jacobs, junior Trey Dail, sophomore Tyson Bass, senior Tyler Wells, senior Dallas Kemp and senior Josh Fuller. Six everyday starters hit .300 or better, with Wells owning a 0.78 earned run average in four appearances.
Rose, under the watchful eye of legendary head coach Ronald Vincent, enters 6-0 after reaching the fourth round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs last season. The Rampants, who hit .329 as a team, are led by Anthony Saieed (.524), Hunter Christopher (.474) and Robby Wacker (.467) at the plate. Christopher, with an 0.47 ERA, has three wins in three starts.
Fike, despite being limited in its run production to date, has rode its pitching and defense to a 6-2 start, including a hard-fought 3-2 win over Southern Nash in its Big East opener Monday.
Sophomore Chad Bean has six appearances for the Golden Demons’ pitching staff, while senior Trevor Mills, senior Jaelynn Melton and junior Tanner Sullivan have toed the rubber on four occasions.
The Demons are still awaiting word on the prognosis senior shortstop Hunter Stokely, who was injured in a win at West Carteret and will not play in the Tobs Varsity Classic.
Sanderson (2-3) of the 4-A CAP 7 Conference, won its league two years ago in the final year of the CAP-8 Conference, but was 9-14 last season.
CBA (6-2) has found itself on the early short end of the stacked ECC, with a two-game losing streak at the hands of Rose and Conley. But the Golden Falcons, ranked No. 1 in 3-A in the latest North Carolina Baseball Coaches Association poll, have a staff that has assembled a 2.06 earned run average to date. The Golden Falcons led Conley 3-0 in the fourth inning Tuesday before a defensive miscue opened the door for four Viking runs en route to an 8-5 loss.
The rotation of Luke Frederick, Cody Whaley, Zack Brewer, Jordan Gay, Blake Gipson and Luke Aycock — all seniors — have allowed 13 earned runs in eight contests. Fifteen opponent tallies have been unearned.
Orange reached the fourth round of the 2016 3-A playoffs and captured the Big Eight Conference championship. The Panthers followed it up with a third-round appearance last year and were 3-3 entering a scheduled Wednesday game against Voyager Academy.
Senior Caige Clayton leads the Orange offense, hitting .500 with 13 RBIs, four doubles and a pair of homers in six games.