Pope (Marietta) and South Forsyth (Cumming) both finished with over 30 wins last year, with Pope edging South Forsyth for the Georgia AAAAA state championship.
While both Pope and South Forsyth figure to be in the running for a state crown again this year, they will have plenty of company.
Roswell appears to be the team most likely to surpass the defending state champion Greyhounds. Playing in the ultra-competitive 6-AAAAA region, Roswell will have to get past Pope in order to challenge for the state title. Roswell has the talented battery of Andrew Smith and catcher Zane Evans leading the way.
Pope (31-8) returns just five starters, but one of them is Will Kendall, who had a 7-1 record with a 1.36 ERA last year.
Runner-up South Forsyth (30-7) has a new coach in Russ Bayer but a veteran group of starters led by All-American shortstop Zach Alvord (16 HR, 40 RBI).
Harrison (Kennesaw) is another team to watch thanks to an offense that boasts the likes of Matt Gonzalez (.449) and Adam Martin (.378).
East Coweta (Sharpsburg) has the necessary star power to make a run at the crown. A semifinalist last year, the Indians have the state’s top pitching recruit in Cam Bedrosian, the son of former Atlanta Brave closer Steve Bedrosian. As a junior, Bedrosian was 10-1 with a 1.10 ERA. The Indians also have a strong second pitcher in Taylor Cato, who was 4-1 with a 2.13 ERA.
Following is a look at how the other classes stack up.
Northgate (Newnan) finished 32-5 last year and won the state AAAA championship. The return of pitcher Conner Kendrick puts the Vikings in the mix for the AAAA title, although Northgate will have to rely on its underclassmen to get the job done since only five senior starters return.
The Vikings might not even be the top team in their region since Starr's Mill (Fayetteville) returns four strong senior starters in Myles Jaye, David Norman, Paul Patterson and Angelo Medeci.
The overall favorite in the class could be Loganville, which returns eight starters, including Clay Garner and Jacob Johnson.
The Class AAA championship came down to a battle between Columbus and Cartersville last year, and that figures to be the case again in 2010.
Cartersville won the state title with a victory over Columbus and posted a 31-5 record overall. The Purple Hurricanes also had one of the nation’s top players on Donovan Tate, who was drafted No. 3 overall by the San Diego Padres.
Tate is gone, but seven starters return to make a run at the crown. The pitching staff includes Adam Clark and Levi Mauldin, a pair of 6-foot-4 right-handers who rank among the top hurlers in the state. The Hurricanes are also solid in the infield where Laine Frazier, Taylor Greene and Justin Croft all return.
Columbus is already off to a strong start with wins over Russell County and Auburn of Alabama. The Blue Devils have just five returning starters, but it’s a strong group that includes outfielder Bobby Andrews, shortstop McLendon Hill, third baseman Brad Barto, infielder J.T. Phillips and MaxPreps Freshman All-American Kyle Carter.
As many as five teams could challenge for the Class AA championship in Georgia this year, including defending champion Lovett (Atlanta).
The Lovett Lions went 28-9 last year and return eight starters from the championship team. Jonathan Carkhuff figures to be one of the top pitchers in Region 6-AA while Drew Stockton is one of the top returning hitters in the region with a .440 average and eight home runs.
Cook (Adel) (29-7) has possibly the state’s best player in pitcher/third baseman Kaleb Cowart. Teammate D.J. Johnson is the top returning strikeout pitcher in the state with 147 strikeouts and a 0.67 ERA. Cowart was also stellar on the mound with a 9-3 mark.
Calhoun (27-4), meanwhile, offers and outstanding offensive attack coupled with strong pitching. Mott Hyde, the returning state leader in home runs with 20 and RBI with 57, leads the offense while Austin Norrell returns on the mound after an undefeated junior season (7-0, 0.72 ERA).
North Oconee (Bogart) has a strong group returning from an 18-11 team, and the Titans received an infusion of talent with the transfer of Florida pitcher Eric Arce. Catcher Angelo Lombardo and first baseman Taylor Hicks lead the offense. Lombardo batted .493 last year while Hicks batted .400.
Lovett will get a stiff challenge in Region 6-AA from Westminster (Atlanta), which went 20-13 last year and returns five starters. The Wildcats have a talented group of pitchers that includes Joseph Withrow, J.D. DeYonker and James Lively.
Wesleyan (Norcross) won the Class A championship last year with a victory over Landmark Christian (Fairburn), giving the Wolves their second straight state championship. Wesleyan finished 27-10 and returns most of the starters from last year’s championship team.
However, Landmark Christian, which lost just one senior from last year’s 25-10 squad, also figures to make a stab at ending Wesleyan’s run.
Wesleyan has its top pitcher back on the mound in Devin Stanton. He was 9-2 last year with a 1.45 ERA. Leading hitter Conor Welton returns in the outfield after batting .404 with eight home runs. The Wolves also have a veteran infield that includes senior second baseman Strother White, senior shortstop Kevin O’Leary and senior third baseman Josh Tolman.
Landmark Christian loses Tanner Bryant, who was one of the top players in the Atlanta area the past two seasons. However, eight other starters return, including pitcher Jonathan Roberts and Blake Austin. Roberts is the top returning pitcher with a 10-2 record last year. Austin blasted nine home runs and had 46 RBI.
Brookstone (Columbus) could also be a tough team to beat thanks to a strong trio of pitchers that includes Milton McCluskey (7-1), Brewer Carter (4-3) and Joey Lewis (3-1).