HAVELOCK | Last year the Havelock Rams were in most of preseason talks among Coastal 3A Conference fans and pundits as many, including opposing league coaches, thought they would have been favorites to win the league.

While they had a solid season at 14-11 (9-3 conference), the Rams fell short of that expectation as rival West Craven claimed the conference crown.

Five starters off that team departed due to graduation, but Havelock does return talent for 2017 and is hopeful this can be their year.

"I think last year I did expect a little more out of us than what we got but we had some success to build on," Havelock coach Matt James said.

"We have a good group coming back, we have had some really good practices and I already love the leadership I am seeing."

Leadership from guys like two returning leading hitters, senior catcher Alex Verduzco and junior infielder Junior Renwick.

Verduzco hit .323 a season ago and Renwick batted .314.

"Those two guys are going to be very important for us and we are going to need others to step up and be good as well," James said.

"Jack Forehand did a lot of good pitching for us last year and we'll need that again. I think on the mound will be a strength for us, the question mark will be how will we swing it?"

Forehand pitched to a 5-3 record in 2016 and posted a 3.45 ERA.

The starters Havelock lost: Cam Carpenter, Drew Simcox, Tanner Johnson, Luke Magyar and Austin Jeffries combined for 85 of the team's 138 RBIs a season ago.

A flaw of the Rams that has cost them in numerous games over the past few seasons is errors.

"We have to fix those, have to," James said.

"I think confidence and leadership will help a lot with that along with the obvious practice and drills."

James also knows the road ahead is tough, as the Coastal 3A Conference usually tends to be hotly competitive.

"I really don't think there is a bad team in our league," James said.

"West Craven is always good, same with West Carteret and the Jacksonville schools (Richlands, Swansboro, Jacksonville, White Oak) always fight you hard."

The Rams reached the 3A state playoffs a season ago, but fell to Hunt in the first round.

Havelock opens the season Feb. 28 at Croatan and begins conference play March 14 at Swansboro.

2017 Schedule:

Feb. 28 at Croatan, 7 p.m.

Mar. 1 at New Bern, 5 p.m.

Mar. 3 vs. East Carteret, 7 p.m.

Mar. 7 at North Lenoir, 6 p.m.

Mar. 9 vs. Croatan, 7 p.m.

Mar. 10 vs. Ashley, 5 p.m.

Mar. 14 at Swansboro, 7 p.m.

Mar. 17 vs. Jacksonville, 7 p.m.

Mar. 20 at East Carteret, 7 p.m.

Mar. 21 at West Carteret, 7 p.m.

Mar. 24 vs. Swansboro, 7 p.m.

Mar. 29 at Jacksonville, 7 p.m.

Mar. 31 vs. Richlands, 7 p.m.

Apr. 4 at West Craven, 7 p.m.

Apr. 7 at White Oak, 7 p.m.

Apr. 11 vs. DH Conley, 7 p.m.

Apr. 12 vs. New Bern, 5 p.m.

Apr. 13 vs. West Carteret, 7 p.m.

Apr. 17 vs. TBD in Easter Tournament, TBD

Apr. 25 at Richlands, 7 p.m.

Apr. 28 vs. West Craven, 7 p.m.

May 2 vs. White Oak, 7 p.m.

May 5 at Pamlico County, 6 p.m.

Jordan Honeycutt can be reached at 252-635-5670 and you can email him at jordan.honeycutt@newbernsj.com