It seems fair to say that the 62nd District runs through Grayson every year.
In the past 16 seasons, East Carter has won 14 district championships and has appeared in 16 straight 16th Region Tournaments.
Add that to five straight district crowns and the Raiders seem to be the team with a bullseye on their collective backs this season.
“When it comes down to it, East Carter is the favorite,” said West Carter coach Brian Brown. “What we all want is to get our program up to where theirs is.”
For East Carter coach Jeremiah Shearer, the goal stays the same every year.
“Winning the district,” Shearer said. “Every year that’s one of our goals. It’s good to go into the region tournament a winner.”
Shearer said the best way for his team to pull off a six-peat is to do it with pitching and defense.
Last season the Raiders won 23 games, and 19 of those wins on the mound return led by No. 1 pitcher and four-hole hitter Cole Boggs.
The senior was 6-4 last season with a 2.89 earned run average. He also had 88 strikeouts in 64 innings pitched.
“Cole is our go-to player on the mound and at the plate,” Shearer said. “He likes the spotlight. He’s the kind of kid who’s not afraid to say something to a teammate — he’s our vocal leader in the dugout.”
Senior Conner Staton is next in the rotation. He finished last season 7-2 with a 2.03 ERA.
He’ll also pull center field duties when not on the mound and will bat from the leadoff position.
“He has a lot of speed,” Shearer said. “He gets on base and, when he does, a lot of good things happen for us.”
Senior Chandler Duncan will also see some time on the mound after suffering an arm injury. He recently threw a bullpen session and Shearer said he looked good during it.
After the three seniors, expect freshman Jordan Walburn to get quality innings.
“Our strength is our pitching,” Shearer said. “It’s going keep us in a lot of games. Pitching and defense are our strong suits.”
Juniors Zack Cathey (outfielder) and Austin Wells (catcher) will return to help in the lineup.
Shearer is also hoping to bring in two new faces to the lineup. Sophomore Chandler Adams is expected to bring power from the No. 5 spot and play first base.
Also new is Austin Floyd, who has the job of replacing Connor Robinson — now at Lincoln Trail College — at shortstop and as the Raiders’ No. 3 hitter.
“That’s a role Austin has embraced,” Shearer said. “He’s learned from Connor, he watched how Connor led us these past years. He likes the challenge of hitting in the middle of the lineup and driving in runs.”
Last season, East Carter won the district by defeating rival West Carter. In fact, the Comets haven’t defeated East Carter in district play since 1995.
Brown, West Carter’s athletic director who is in his first season as the baseball coach, knows it is going to take a nearly perfect game to dethrone the Raiders.
“I think it’s going to take pitching and to limit the runs they score,” Brown said. “And you have to play good defense. If you have four or five errors you can’t expect to beat East Carter.”
Leading West Carter will be senior Tanner Tackett, who is expected to be the Comets’ No. 1 pitcher and bat second in the lineup.
“He’s our most productive player and the leader of our team,” Brown said. “He’s just a great power hitter and he has the strength to hit the ball to parts of the field.”
Also getting time on the mound will be junior Spencer Phillips, sophomore Taylor Napier and eighth-grader Ben Jordan.
Phillips will also man the third-hole in the order behind Tackett, while Jordan will usually bat in the cleanup spot.
Brown said the eighth-grader isn’t the prototypical fourth hitter.
“He can handle it,” Brown said. “Ben has power, but he’s more of a player who just puts the ball in play. That’s what we want from him.”
Jordan will also be the starting third baseman for the Comets, holding up the youthful left side of the infield with shortstop Peyton Brown, a seventh-grader.
“Both those guys play a lot of baseball over the summer and with travel teams,” Brown said. “Playing against older kids is going to be different. They have to react quicker and become better thinkers on the field.”
Last season West Carter had the third-best record in the district at 10-21, but defeated Morgan County in the district tournament.
Morgan County is expected to compete with East and West to make it to the region tournament. The Cougars finished 12-14 last year and came close to upsetting East Carter twice last season.
“Morgan is a veteran-laden ball club,” Shearer said. “They are pretty solid all the way around, most of the guys will be back. Morgan will be a real challenge in the district this season.”
Elliott County is under the direction of first-year coach Bobby Adams. The Lions finished last season 0-16 and scored only 14 runs on the year.
They already topped last season’s win total by defeating Menifee County on March 13, beating them 7-2 in Lexington.
KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2658.