The 5th annual Golden Leaf counts 21 teams

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Competition over the Easter break has not been overly kind for Hunt High varsity baseball teams during the era of current head coach Jon Smith.

“We are always going to play during the Easter break,” Smith declared.

Smith is joined by head coaches with similar sentiments from 20 other high school programs in Eastern North Carolina.

Twenty-one teams are assembled for the fifth annual Golden Leaf Invitational, which opens at four venues Saturday and continues on those four diamonds Monday and Tuesday. Weather permitting, 31 games will be played before the 2018 champion is proclaimed.

The tournament is pretty much the brainchild of Smith and Fike head coach Buck Edmundson.

The Warriors and Golden Demons are joined by Wilson Christian, Southern Nash, North Johnston and C.B. Aycock as teams representing The Wilson Times readership area.

Returnees include 2017 champion Cardinal Gibbons of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4-A ranks and reigning North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 2-A champion Faith Christian of Rocky Mount.

Smith noted scheduling has been the most difficult aspect of readying for the fifth invitational — which includes six games on the Farmville Central High diamond for the first time.

“We meet some teams’ requests but we can’t please everybody,” Smith explained. “But we have a great field — a ton of good players, good coaches and good guys. The teams are good this year.”

Complicating the structure of the schedule is the fact some teams mention preferred opponents. Others do not want to be paired against nonconferennce foes they have already played and teams from the same conference don’t want to tangle during the holidays.

“It’s the same issue for private schools,” Smith said. “It’s that way every year.”

As far as Hunt’s Warriors are concerned, Smith offers a three-fold purpose for playing during Easter.

— The invitational helps with scheduling. If not playing three games during the break, teams, including Hunt, would find it necessary to play three games weekly during conference play to be assured of a full schedule.

— The opportunity to play different teams and generate a “little bit of a playoff feel.”

— The three-day event attracts numerous Major League scouts. Smith estimated at least a dozen scouts were in attendance in 2017. The college ranks are also represented. Smith considers the Golden Leaf Invitational a tournament with a showcase feel for a lot of teams from a centralized area.

Furthermore, Hunt and Fike are currently playing well. The archrivals share the 3-A Big East Conference lead at 4-0. Overall, Fike stands 9-2 and Hunt 9-4. The Demons have triumphed in eight of their last nine games, while Hunt has won five of its last six.

Projected as Golden Leaf contenders are Cardinal Gibbons (8-3), Faith Christian (8-2), 3-A CBA (9-3) of the 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference, 4-A Corinth Holders (8-2), North Johnston (7-3) of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference and Rosewood (5-2) of the 1-A Carolina Conference.

Possibly being overlooked are 2-A South Granville (10-1), Rocky Mount Academy (6-0) of NCISAA 2-A division and Wayne Country Day (6-1) of NCISAA 1-A status.

Once again, no head-to-head confrontation will likely determine the champion.

Smith explained the first criteria among unbeaten teams is the combined record of Golden Leaf opponents. If necessary, the next option is total runs allowed.

Because of scheduling adjustments, Fike will play four games. Playing just twice are Corinth Holders and Wilson Christian.

Smith hinted the format may be tweaked in 2019 and another possibility is downsizing to an eight-team, double-elimination tournament.

But in 2018, with cooperation from Mother Nature, 21 teams will play 31 games on diamonds in Fleming Stadium, at Hunt’s Sid Boyette Field, at Fike’s Gilbert Ferrell Field and Farmville Central.

Smith is encouraged excellent senior leadership will influence a strong Hunt showing.

“We try to win everything we try to do,” he assured. “But we just want to play baseball as good as we can.”