If you ask most coaches around the Kanawha Valley, including Nitro's Steve Pritchard, there doesn't seem to be a consensus about which team is the Valley's best.
But Pritchard will gladly tell you that the best player in the Valley plays for the Wildcats - Korey Dunbar.
After committing to North Carolina and posting the kind of numbers Dunbar put up last year, it's tough to argue with Pritchard. But as the team's only senior, the Wildcats will need more than just stats from Dunbar this year, and Pritchard believes his catcher is just the man for the job.
"If you're only going to have one senior, Korey is the one guy you would want," Pritchard said. "I think he's the best player in the state. He's a good leader and a great role model for the younger guys. He knows what we want and how we want the game to be played."
Dunbar hit .533 for the Wildcats last season, the second-best average in the Valley behind Hurricane's Tyler Payne, the eventual Gatorade state player of the year. He was also second behind Payne in home runs with 11 and collected 43 RBIs.
He can also pitch, and Pritchard said Dunbar will be used as the Wildcats' late-inning closer.
Outside of Dunbar, the Wildcats are extremely inexperienced. Sophomore Ryan McDonough is the only other active roster member with prior starting experience. McDonough is filling in at shortstop for Solomon Shamblin, who will miss a portion of the season as he recovers from back surgery.
The young Wildcats will try to match or build upon last season's 21-9 mark and are pursuing a sixth-straight appearance in the state tournament.
"The goals are the same," Pritchard said. "We want to win 20 games, we want to be in the [Mountain State Athletic Conference] final four and we want to make the state tournament. For four years we had the target on our back and last year we targeted Cabell Midland. We knew we had to beat them and had to game-plan for them. This year, I don't see one team that's dominant that can't be beat. You just have to play the ball and not the opponent."
Hurricane finished last year with a 26-5 record, due in large part to the aforementioned Payne, Sam Kmiec and Evan Oyler, all of whom are playing college baseball this season.
Payne hit .571 with 14 home runs and 49 RBIs last season, missing the Valley triple crown by four RBIs. Kmiec was arguably the best pitcher in the area, racking up an 8-1 record with a 0.81 ERA and 100 strikeouts. Oyler chipped in a .385 average with nine home runs and 34 RBIs.
Needless to say, coach Brian Sutphin and a cast of young characters have some work to do this season.
"Obviously you have a lot of kids that have had success growing up all through Little League and those types of things," Sutphin said of his current roster. "We've got some young guys, but they're hungry to get their high school careers started."
The Redskins return a trio of pitchers with experience in senior Drew Lawrence, junior Riley Metz and sophomore Austin Hensley. Lawrence went 6-1 last season with 46 strikeouts in 412/3 innings and will be looked upon to lead the staff this year.
Junior Connor Adams spent two seasons behind Payne and could be poised for a breakout season this year.
"I think our team is going to be one of those teams that will get better and better," Sutphin said. "And by the end of the year, there's no question we're going to have a chance to accomplish some big things."