NCMC loaded with legitimate contenders
Although Helias lost a strong senior class last spring when it was stopped short in its bid for a third straight appearance in the MSHSAA Class AAA Championships -- where it was a two-time defending champion -- the Crusaders are still the team to beat in the NCMC.
Unlike past campaigns, though, there appear to be a handful of teams capable of doing so. Rock Bridge brings back a solid lineup from last year's runner-up and Fulton and Kirksville have the earmarks of contenders. If Marshall's pitching performs up to its potential, the Owls could be a dark horse.
Mexico could also crack the first division, but Moberly and Hannibal both are going to need for a lot of young players to come through to challenge.
The biggest chink in Helias' armor may come on the mound, where it loses a big-game stopper in three-time all-state hurler Sam LeCure. The Crusaders, though, still have some good arms and can hit the ball -- with senior 3B Jason Streumph one of five .300 hitters back in the lineup.
Rock Bridge Bruins
Senior Scott Briedwell and junior Chase Patton give Rock Bridge a pair of dependable starters and there's no better spark-plug at the top of the order than senior SS Curt Bradley -- son of former major league player Phil Bradley. Senior C Scott Dunwoody is a proven run-producer.
There is plenty of punch and speed on offense for Fulton, what with the senior trio of SS Cortez Cave, LF Alex Salmons and RF Matt Rose to do the damage. Rose is also a solid starter, but help is going to come from the son of former St. Louis Cardinals Charley James: senior 1B-P Brian James.
Kirksville will get strong starting pitching and a good stick from senior 3B Scott Slaughter, but there will be the need for a couple of other returning starters to improve on their run production. That's not the case for senior RF Brad Collier, coming off .326, 32-run season.
There are a bunch of new faces on the field for Mexico, including head coach Keith Louder -- who takes over for veteran E.G. Ramey. Senior P-3B Chris Stembridge provides the leadership and junior 2B Josh Dempsey is a key hitter near the top of the order.
Pat Rapert takes over a squad which has a pair of solid pitchers in senior Ryan Longbine and sophomore Owen Reid, but not a lot of punch at the plate -- having averaged just 1.5 runs per game against league foes a year ago. The Spartans will need Reid's .365 bat as well as his arm.
Former Hannibal coach Blane Mundle returns to the sidelines in an emergency, and he's crying for help with only three lettermen back -- only two with a heavy dose of varsity experience.