Patton junior catcher Waylon Rutherford and senior pitcher/first baseman Peyton Smith are The News Herald’s 2021 Burke County high school baseball co-players of the year, while Draughn senior shortstop Chloe Gary is county player of the year in softball.
This is the second time The News Herald has awarded baseball and softball county accolades since reviving them in 2019 after a long absence, before the 2020 season was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rutherford and Smith are joined on the first team by Panthers teammates Brayson Buff (Jr., SS/P), Noah Morgan (Sr., OF), Brayden Pearson (Sr., OF), Christian White (Jr., P/OF), as well as Draughn’s Marshall Byrd (Sr., SS/P), Freedom’s Mason Mozeley (Jr., P/C) and East Burke’s Ben Elkins (Sr., P/C).
In softball, Gary is accompanied on the first team by Lady Wildcats teammates Katie Cozort (So., CF), Maddie Crouch (Fr., 3B), Dakota Melancon (So., P) and Regan Winkler (Jr., C), as well as East Burke’s Taylor Bostain (So., C) and Grace Hammack (Fr., LF), Patton’s Emma Grindstaff (So., C/3B) and Freedom’s Mikhayla Lingafelt (So., P).
Rutherford, also the county’s player of the year in boys basketball, led the county and the Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference in batting average at .525. He notched 21 hits, eight RBIs and a whopping nine doubles while scoring a county-high 19 runs. He had team-highs of a .750 slugging percentage and a .642 on-base percentage. Rutherford, also named All-NWFAC, stole five bases and had a .990 fielding percentage behind the plate for the Panthers.
Despite an injury that cost him a good portion of the season on the mound, Patton’s Smith established himself as the county’s best pitcher, tossing 12 innings with no runs allowed — earned or unearned — and struck out 20 opposing batters. Smith also was strong at the plate with a .311 batting average, 13 runs scored, 12 RBIs and two home runs. He, too, was named All-NWFAC.
Buff hit .333 with nine runs scored, a team-leading 14 RBIs and seven doubles, stealing three bases. On the mound, Buff posted a 2.94 ERA with 12 strikeouts, seven walks and five earned runs allowed over 16 2/3 innings en route to All-NWFAC honorable mention.
Morgan led the county with 16 stolen bases as he hit .375 with 18 runs scored, nine RBIs, three doubles and two triples. The outfielder, who was named All-NWFAC, posted a .952 fielding percentage, converting 19 of 21 chances.
Pearson was second for the Panthers with a .432 batting average, scoring 12 runs and registering 12 RBIs, six doubles and a triple while stealing four bases. He tallied a .963 fielding percentage with 25 successes on 27 opportunities as he was named All-NWFAC.
White posted a 1.73 ERA on the mound, striking out 36 while allowing 15 walks and nine earned runs across 36 1/3 innings. At the plate, White hit .286 with six runs scored, four RBIs, a double and a triple for the Panthers.
Byrd was the Wildcats’ ace, accumulating a 1.33 ERA with 37 strikeouts, allowing 20 walks and just five earned runs across 26 1/3 innings. He hit .245, scoring 10 runs with seven RBIs, four doubles, a triple and a home run in an All-NWFAC season.
Mozeley led the Patriots with a .303 batting average. He totaled up eight RBIs, scored seven runs for FHS and smacked two doubles. On the mound, he pitched 24 1/3 innings with 30 strikeouts to show for it.
And Elkins notched a 1.97 ERA on the mound, ringing up 43 batters and allowing 14 walks and 11 earned runs to the competition across 39 innings. At the plate, Elkins hit .150 with four runs scored, three RBIs and a home run as he was named All-NWFAC.
Gary, a University of North Carolina signee, hit .500 with 26 RBIs, five home runs, eight doubles and a triple for the Lady Wildcats, posting a .963 slugging percentage. She also stole four bases. After her stellar senior season for the Lady Wildcats, Gary additionally was named to honors lists including All-Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference, All-District 7 and All-State in 2A by the N.C. Softball Coaches Association.
Cozort, also named All-NWFAC, all-district and all-state, hit a team-leading .508 with 26 RBIs, 10 doubles, two home runs and two triples with a .814 slugging percentage, stealing 12 bases. She also was a BodyArmor State Games silver medalist.
So, too, was Crouch named All-NWFAC, all-district and all-state. In her first prep season, she hit .463 with 14 RBIs, 11 doubles, a home run and a triple with a .759 slugging percentage for the Lady Wildcats. She stole four bases.
Melancon posted eight wins from the pitcher’s circle, posting a 4.01 ERA with 50 strikeouts. At the plate, she hit .451 with 14 RBIs, two home runs and a double with a .588 slugging percentage. She was named All-NWFAC honorable mention.
Winkler, who shifted behind the plate to catch for Draughn this spring, hit .490 for the Lady Wildcats with 19 RBIs and five doubles, posting a .608 slugging percentage. She also was named All-NWFAC honorable mention.
Bostain hit .333 with 14 RBIs, nine runs scored and two home runs with a .466 slugging percentage. Behind the plate, posted a perfect fielding percentage and caught three runners stealing. She was All-NWFAC honorable mention.
Hammack hit .400 for the Lady Cavaliers as a freshman, tallying 10 runs scored, four RBIs and three doubles while stealing a team-high six bases. The left fielder earned a .920 fielding percentage, capitalizing on 21 of 25 chances.
Grindstaff was named all-district and All-NWFAC after hitting .391 with 12 RBIs, six runs scored and four doubles, managing a .478 slugging percentage. In the field, she posted a .970 fielding percentage, going 52 for 66.
And Lingafelt was named All-Northwestern 3A/4A Conference after tallying a 4.77 ERA, striking out 48 and allowing 25 walks and 47 earned runs across 69 innings from the circle. She hit .300 with seven RBIs, three home runs and a double.
John Robert Abernathy, Draughn — Hit .343 with nine runs scored, four RBIs and four stolen bases; 13 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings pitched; All-NWFAC.
Jake Bevins, East Burke — Hit .368 with seven runs scored, four RBIs and six stolen bases; posted a .970 fielding percentage; All-NWFAC.
Kalen Byrd, Patton — Hit .293 with 10 runs scored, 10 RBIs, three doubles and eight stolen bases; posted a .676 fielding percentage.
Damien Dula, Freedom — Hit .257 (second on the team) with eight runs scored and nine stolen bases for the Patriots as a senior.
Trey Jensen, Draughn — Hit .313 with 14 runs scored, 13 RBIs, three home runs, four doubles, two triples and five stolen bases; All-NWFAC honorable mention.
Brayden Schutt, Draughn — Hit .327 with 11 runs scored, seven RBIs, one triple, one double and 12 stolen bases; All-NWFAC honorable mention.
Daniel Stevenson, Freedom — Posted a 2.86 ERA with 19 strikeouts across 22 innings on the mound for the spring; All-NWC.
Gabe Strickland, Draughn — Tallied a 4.47 ERA with 39 strikeouts, 20 earned runs and 13 walks across 31 1/3 innings; hit .351 with four runs and nine RBIs; All-NWFAC.
Tanner Woody, Draughn — Hit .294 with 14 runs scored, 13 RBIs, three doubles and four stolen bases; posted a .733 fielding percentage.
Kelbony Clark, Freedom — Hit a team-best .450 with eight runs scored, six RBIs and a home run with a .525 slugging percentage; All-District.
Allie Cooke, East Burke — Hit .444 with five runs scored, one RBI and a triple with a .555 slugging percentage; .818 fielding percentage.
Danielle Foxx, East Burke — Hit .340 with 13 runs scored, seven RBIs, four doubles and one triple with a .460 slugging percentage; All-NWFAC.
Madyson Johnson, East Burke — Hit .359 with nine runs scored, eight RBIs and one triple with a .435 slugging percentage; 1.000 fielding percentage.
Brianna Nations, Draughn — Hit .326 with 15 RBIs, three doubles and a home run with a .465 slugging percentage, also stealing two bases for Draughn.
Kaylee Paige, East Burke — Posted a 6.35 ERA with 30 strikeouts across 43 innings; hit .333 with six runs scored, four RBIs and two doubles; All-NWFAC.
Bridget Patrick, Patton — Notched a 6.33 ERA with 34 strikeouts over 45 1/3 innings; hit .333 with nine runs scored, three RBIs and five doubles.
Kaylee Redwine, Patton — Hit .314 with 13 RBIs, five runs scored, four doubles and two home runs with a .600 slugging percentage; .692 fielding percentage.
Hailey Snodgrass, Patton — Hit .326 with 14 runs scored, five RBIs and four doubles with a .413 slugging percentage and six stolen bases for PHS.
Draughn — Thomas Lambert, Logan McGee, Nick Rhoney; East Burke — Colin Eckard, Dalton Teague; Freedom — Jagger Bailey, Garren Bryant, Wes Smith; Patton — Easton McCoy, Nick McGee.
Draughn — Bailey Bryant, Maddison Powell; East Burke — Katherine Greene, Kayleigh Icard; Freedom — Sarah Armentrout, Kaitlyn Puett, Madilynn Taylor, Jasmine Webb; Patton — Meredith Kearson, Cierra Lail, Emily Shuping.
Justin Epley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-432-8943.