Wednesday, 16 May 2018 00:14

Lee, Loving and Watkins headline All-SAC baseball team

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Seniors Jonathan Lee, Drew Loving and Trey Watkins were named to the All-SAC baseball team. Seniors Jonathan Lee, Drew Loving and Trey Watkins were named to the All-SAC baseball team. Contributed photos.

ROCKINGHAM - As the battle for the 2018 North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A baseball championship rages on, 22 ball players from the Sandhills Athletic Conference have been named to the inaugural All-SAC team.

The official all-conference team was released on Tuesday afternoon, as the two remaining SAC teams, Pinecrest and Richmond high schools, were bounced from playoff contention during the second round over the weekend. Pinecrest led the way with six total selections, followed by Jack Britt High School (4) and Richmond (3).

Making the team for Richmond was a trio of seniors, all of whom have spent some time on the mound this year for the Raiders. Lefty starting pitcher Jonathan Lee, starting shortstop and No. 3 pitcher Drew Loving and right-handed starting pitcher Trey Watkins all earned roster spots.

This is the second career all-conference selection for both Lee and Loving, as Lee earned it two seasons ago as a sophomore, and Loving notched his first recognition last season. This is Watkins’ first time being selected.

During the 2018 campaign, the Raiders, led by head coach Ricky Young, finished with an 18-8 overall record and a third-place finish in the SAC standings. After starting the season 5-5 with losses to SAC opponents Pinecrest, Jack Britt and Hoke County high schools, it was the three of these players who helped spark a 12-game winning streak that helped the Raiders finish to their second-best conference finish in three years.

“All three guys were an integral part of our success both on the mound and at the plate,” Young said of his three selections. “I’m very happy for all three of them.”

In his senior season, Lee was one of Richmond’s most consistent players on the mound and at the plate. The UNCP commit made 10 appearances on the hill, racking up an impressive 5-1 record. His earned run average of 1.75 was fifth-best in the SAC, just behind Jack Britt’s Brennan Herbert (0.80) and Brendan Shae (1.12), Pinecrest’s Nik Pry (1.15) and Hoke County’s Ryan Taylor (1.62). All four pitchers were also named to the All-SAC team.

Lee struck out 65 opposing batters in 44 innings of work.

Lee’s best pitching performance of the spring came at home on March 30, when he threw a perfect game against a surprisingly good Hoke County team. In the the 3-0 Richmond win, Lee threw just 73 pitches in seven complete innings, struck out 11 Bucks, and got ground ball put outs from Loving, Tyler Bass and Brett Young to end things in the top of the seventh.

From the dish, Lee led all Raiders players (with at least 30 at-bats) with a .388 average, and was second to Taylor’s conference-best .515 batting average. Lee collected 13 RBIs, 26 total hits, including a team-high six doubles and three home runs (which was tied for second-best in the conference).

“It makes me feel like all my hard work has paid off,” Lee said. When my name was called, I tried to give it my all and do the best I could so I didn’t let any of my teammates down.

“I think they (Loving and Watkins) deserve it,” Lee added. “They helped us out a lot this year on the mound and also with the bat.”

Loving, who most notably played shortstop for Young, is the only of the three Richmond players to be named to back-to-back All-Conference teams. A two-year starter for the Raiders, Loving captained the infield in the six-hole, and completed 26 putouts and had 37 defensive assists this season. On the basepaths, he was also a speed threat, as he stole 19 bases, two behind Lee for the team lead.

Loving played in all of Richmond’s 26 games this season, and batted .305 which was fourth among Raiders with 30 or more at-bats. He smacked 18 hits, two doubles and brought home eight RBIs. As a pitcher, Loving tallied a 5-1 record in 10 appearances and finished with a 2.62 ERA.

His best pitching performance of the season came at the Seahawk Invitational over spring break in Hilton Head, S.C. After Richmond knocked off host Hilton Head High School and Chapman High School (Chapman, S.C) in the opening two rounds, Loving silenced the bats of George Washington High School (Charleston, W.Va.). In the 4-1 win, Loving pitched a complete game, going seven innings, allowing just four Patriots hits and one earned run. He also collected two hits and an RBI in the win, helping move Richmond to the title game, which it won 7-4 over Lexington Catholic High School (Lexington, Ky.).

“It means a lot to see hard work pay off,” Loving said. “It’s always an honor to be selected.

“I’ve learned to always battle and never give up on anything,” Loving noted of his time as a Raider ball player. “It’s been a blessing to wear the green and gold for four years.”

Watkins, who has received from interest from several community and junior colleges for his pitching abilities, led the Raiders’ rotation with six wins this season. A quiet performer who went out and did his job, Watkins finished tied with Pry for first in the SAC in total strikeouts with 95, and also pitched 6.1 innings less than the Patriots star pitcher.

Not only did Watkins have a strong strikeout pitch all season, he was also credited with two team no-hitters in the latter half of the season. On April 17 at Seventy-First, Young used a platoon of pitchers to no-hit the Falcons in a 17-0 rout. Watkins pitched the first two innings, gave up a walk and struck out four, before teammates Cameron Carraway and Justin Ingram closed the final three innings.

His closest bid for a solo no-hitter came a week prior, when Watkins tossed 6.2 innings without giving up a hit to SAC opponent Lumberton. After walking the leadoff batter in the seventh, and then striking out the next two Pirates, Watkins was pulled due to reaching his maximum pitch count. Loving came in and got the next batter out.

At the plate this season, Watkins batted .306, collected 11 hits, four doubles and seven RBIs.

“It feels great to be on the All-Conference team for the first time,” Watkins said. “I didn’t expect it to happen because so many people on our team could be on it. But it’s nice to be recognized.

“The most enjoyable part of my senior season was going to Hilton Head and winning that tournament,” Watkins noted. “And it was a part of our winning streak.”

All three Richmond players have been named the Official Richmond County Male Athlete of the Week this season.

Below are the following players from the remaining seven SAC schools to make the All-Conference squad:

Coach of the Year: Jeff Hewitt, Pinecrest

Player of the Year: Nik Pry, Pinecrest

Pinecrest (6): Bryce Calcutt, Garrett Clark, Dax Ingram, Cach Pruitt, Nik Pry and Jacob Zimmerman.

Jack Britt (4): Chandler Cannon, Brennan Herbert, Alex Reyna and Brendan Shea.

Hoke County (3): Jamison Cummings, Logan Goins and Ryan Taylor.

Scotland (2): Daly Marcano, Austin Norton

Purnell Swett (2) Jeremiah Locklear, Brayden Scott

Lumberton (1): Kris Allen

Seventy-First (1): Henriadam Brower

Kyle Pillar

Sports Editor. IUP communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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