KENLY — High school summer baseball leagues are, by their very nature, centered around the future of programs as coaches start putting together the pieces of the puzzle for the following spring and filling holes left open by the loss of graduating seniors.
But for both the North Johnston and Smithfield-Selma baseball teams, this summer is not merely about looking at new faces and figuring where they could best serve the team next season, but even more so to prepare to enter new conferences.
As the young teams converged on the diamond last week, the players who will serve as the foundation and transition towards new chapters in the programs’ histories next season began their march to next spring with the Panthers earning the 6-1 win.
North’s Tommy Jackson helped secure the win as the rising senior allowed just one run on two hits in three innings of work.
A three-run second inning fueled by a pair of Spartan errors was all that North Johnston would need for the victory.
Henry Moore accounted for the only Spartan run as he came home on a bases-loaded walk in the third. Cole Pearson, Francil Ramirez, Chris Simonson and Austin Young all picked up hits for SSS. Kellen Johnson collected a pair of singles to lead the Panthers. Cody Felton, Dallas Krob, Chad Little, Dylan Radford and Rusty Renfrow all recorded hits as well for North.
Both the Panthers and Spartans, admittedly, did not have the sort of seasons they are accustomed to having in their final year of play in the Northern Carolina 2A Conference and Greater Neuse River 4A Conference, respectively, and look at the change as an opportunity to begin anew. The road may not get any easier, however.
“The whole thing with this move to the new conference is that it is going to be a baseball conference,” said Smithfield-Selma coach Ben Deese. “We’ve got to come in ready to play.
“Anywhere on the eastern side of North Carolina, you’re not going to be able to hide in baseball.”
Joining the Spartans in the newly formed Two Rivers 3A Conference will be county foes Cleveland, Corinth Holders, and South Johnston with Triton and Western Harnett rounding out the league.
North Johnston will make the transition to the Eastern Plains 2A Conference that will feature Farmville Central, North Pitt, Southwest Edgecombe, Washington and Wilson Beddingfield. The Panthers fell to Beddingfield and North Pitt during the spring, but are excited by an influx of new talent that give hope to the future.
With both squads featuring many underclassmen who will be asked to fill some roles next season, the focus for both the Panthers and the Spartans this summer is more internal than it is focusing on how they will fit in with their new conference opponents.
“It’s almost like you’re wiping the slate clean,” North Johnston coach Brian Ford said of working with a 10-player strong freshman class that he is excited about. “I’m looking for consistency because we’ve got a lot of holes to fill from last year.”