To say the players selected to the 2019 Wilkes Journal-Patriot’s all-county baseball team had some serious talent would be an understatement.
Of the 30 players nominated by their respective coaches, 20 of them batted .300 or higher — five of those players batted .400 or better.
The county also boasted 15 All-Mountain Valley Athletic Conference selections that helped their teams win 57 games this spring (including 37 MVAC games).
That made picking the 16 players named to this year’s all-county first team a challenge.
Counting the top honorees, West Wilkes led the county with seven selections. Wilkes Central and East Wilkes added five and three selections, respectively, and North Wilkes had one selection.
East Wilkes (10-13, 8-6 MVAC)
For the second year in a row, the Cardinals won the 1A side of the MVAC and earned a first-round bye in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1A state playoffs. They also hosted a playoff game for the third-straight year.
James Burcham played a major role in helping East Wilkes accomplish that feat. The Bluefield College-signee paced the Cardinals at the plate with a .413 batting average with one home run and 19 runs batted in. He also had a team-high 31 hits.
An All-MVAC selection, the senior had a 1.91 earned run average in 11 appearances (all starts), allowing just 15 earned runs the entire season. He finished with 54 strikeouts.
“James led us in most statistical categories. He really improved offensively and had a great year,” said East Wilkes Head Coach Justin Call. “We will miss him, but look forward to his accomplishments next year at Bluefield.”
Seniors Sean Sidden and Ben Longbottom also played major roles in the Cardinals’ success.
Sidden, who will play for Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, batted .311 with 23 hits and 15 RBIs while patrolling shortstop and batting leadoff. Longbottom finished second to Burcham on the Cardinals’ roster in both batting average (.342) and hits (26) while driving in 14 runs.
An all-MVAC honorable mention selection, Longbottom also led East in extra base hits with seven doubles and a triple.
“Sean was a great leadoff for us and was always a threat on the base. He was a clutch hitter in key situations all year,” said Call. “Ben had a tremendous senior season and he was one of our most consistent offensive threats. He also played a great right field all year for us and was someone we could always count on.”
North Wilkes (7-14, 4-10 MVAC)
A year after making the NCHSAA playoffs for just the second time since being reclassified as a 2A school in 2013, the Vikings won their first conference tournament game since 2002.
Sammy Johnston split time between the pitcher’s mound and shortstop while being named to the All-MVAC team.
On the mound, Johnston had 48 strikeouts and sported a 2.36 ERA. At the plate, he batted .283.
“Sammy is one of the most competitive players we have. He just goes out and competes on the mound and in the field,” said North Wilkes Head Coach Dwayne Berrier.
West Wilkes (23-4, 14-0 MVAC)
The top of the Blackhawks order was very potent as the top four hitters in their order batted .330 or better this spring.
Cory Lackey, West’s leadoff hitter, faced the task of taking over at the top of West’s batting order following the graduation of Alex Ortiz. The Pfeiffer College signee batted .333 with 28 hits, one home run and 20 RBIs.
He also swiped a county-best 32 bases while scoring 35 runs. In the field, he committed just two errors at second base.
Caleb Miles assumed the role of the Blackhawks’ cleanup batter and led the team and the county with 32 RBIs, thanks in large part to 15 doubles while batting .352.
Both players were named all-conference.
“Cory has been a team leader and solidifying force now for three years. He is one of the best defensive second basemen we have ever had, maybe the best,” said Ward. “He was a great leadoff and table-setter for us. He will be sorely missed but he will do good things at Pfeiffer next year.
“Caleb was a huge threat in our four-spot. He came up big in almost every clutch situation — he played a tremendous first base as well,” added Ward. “He is a great kid who works hard and strives to do what is best for the team at all times.”
As good as Riley Ledford was on the mound, Justin Dickson and Trenton Mastin were just as effective, stepping up big when Ledford missed time due to injury.
Dickson, a junior, went 6-1 (4-0 in MVAC play) with a 1.44 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 39 innings pitched. Mastin, a sophomore, went 5-0 (3-0 in MVAC) with a 1.75 ERA in 36 innings pitched.
Both players were all-MVAC honorable mention selections.
“Justin would have been our undisputed ace had he not been behind the two-time MVAC Pitcher of the Year,” said Ward. “He was dominant in conference and was great for us out of the pen or as a starter. He will continue to be a big part of our staff next season.
“Trenton, as with Justin, could have been our ace this season. He was a huge contributor to our pitching staff and we expect big things from him going forward,” added Ward. “He is a tremendous competitor and a guy we were comfortable with giving the ball against anyone.”
Wilkes Central (17-7, 11-3)
In addition to Skylar Brooks, four other All-MVAC members made key contributions to help the Eagles make the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association state playoffs.
Seniors Noah Johnson and Ethan Adams both did their parts on the mound, in the field and at the plate this spring.
Johnson batted .413 with 24 hits and 25 runs scored; he was also 19-of-20 in attempted stolen bases. On the mound, he went 2-2 in four appearances, allowing just one earned run in 17 ²⁄³ innings pitched.
Adams batted .361 with 26 hits and 19 RBIs. He was also 4-3 on the mound with a 3.14 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 42 ¹⁄³ innings.
Juniors Hunter Johnson and Colby Lakey patrolled the corner bases of the infield and turned in strong seasons.
Playing third base, Johnson batted .342 with 24 hits and was second on the Eagles in RBIs with 21. Lakey, Central’s first baseman, batted .354 with 22 hits and 17 RBIs.
Lakey also made seven appearances on the mound with a 3.77 ERA.