This year, choosing Columbia County's Baseball Player of the Year was tough.
Evans senior Ken Raborn received News-Times honors for his performance on the baseball diamond. Raborn was named to First Team for his work on third base.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Evans went all the way to the AAAA Final Four, but the Knights were just a solid team, and while they had some great players, none jumped out at me as Player of the Year candidates. Rich Poythress, of Greenbrier, is the county's best prospect and he had a monster year, so he was certainly a strong candidate.
However, after wrestling with this for a while, the choice became clear. It is not often someone so young captures such a major award, but Augusta Christian freshman P-OF Nolan Belcher piled up some numbers that made not taking him impossible.
The 5-5 lefty was 10-0 on the mound with a mind-boggling 0.13 ERA. He also averaged two strikeouts per inning with 94 K's in 47 innings pitched. He consistently hit the gun in the mid 80s, topping out at 87 mph.
Remember: He is just a ninth-grader.
Of course, Belcher has great bloodlines. His brother Jordan is a past Columbia County Player of the Year. Jordan was known for his work at the plate, and Nolan was tremendous with the bat as well. For the season he hit .438 and drove in 30 runs. He also played a solid center field.
Who knows if the youngster can keep up the torrid pace he has set for himself. No matter what, though, he will always be the first freshman ever to be named Columbia County Player of the Year. As a matter of fact I can recall only three other ninth-graders to even earn All-County, much less pick up the yearly award.
Oh, and by the way - he helped carry Augusta Christian to the third state championship in school history.
Greenbrier pitcher Ben Dukes received News-Times honors for their performance on the baseball diamond. Dukes to the First Team for his pitching.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Like clockwork each year, our county baseball teams seem to be loaded with talent, and 2005 was no different. One state title, one final four, two more state playoff appearances, and Greenbrier may have been the best team in Georgia not to make the playoffs. Yes, 2005 was a very good year.
Also, this season supplied fans with a few moments they will never forget. Like Wayne House's two-run walk-off double to give Augusta Christian the SCISA state title, or Shawn Ward's bases-clearing double to keep Evans alive in the AAAA playoffs. Both heroic moments came with two outs in the team's final at-bat.
As always, many players performed at a level worthy of post-season accolades so here is our choice for the best Columbia County had to offer in 2005.
2005 All Columbia County Baseball Team
C - Barrett Davis, Sr. Harlem - Leader for the Bulldogs all season. Hit .351 with 10 doubles and 29 RBI. Also excellent behind the plate.
1b - Rich Poythress, Jr. Greenbrier - This was one of the few unanimous choices I had. Poythress is a hitting machine. He is selective beyond his years, and when pitchers miss across the plate, he makes them pay. He led the county with 13 homers this year. He has committed to UGA, but the MLB Draft will definitely be an option for him next season.
2b - Jonathan Merriman, Sr. ACS - Merriman had a senior campaign to remember. He helped to lead the Lions to the state crown with a team best 46 RBI. He also hit .416 with six homers. Defensively he was equally efficient. He may be the county's most underrated player.
3b - Ken Raborn, Sr. Evans - Shawn Ward may have had "the" biggest hit of the year for the Knights, but during the past three seasons, no Evans player has had more clutch hits than Raborn. He hit .442 this year, with 10 homers and 34 RBI.
SS - Josh Whitaker, Soph. ACS - Whitaker may only be a 10th-grader, but he has established himself as one of the county's best athletes.
Switching to short stop this season and made it look easy. Hit a team high .485 for ACS, while also recording 10 doubles, three homers and 21 RBI for the Lions. Also, had a big year on the hill.
OF - Shawn Ward, Jr. Evans - Ward is a very polished player. Seems born to play center field, and made great strides at the plate in 2005 as well, hitting .408. He also hit 9 homres, and his 55 RBI led the CSRA. He has made himself not just a college prospect, but some big-league teams may take a peek next season, too.
OF - Brad Ramsbotham, Sr. Greenbrier - Ramsbotham had a huge junior year, and this year teams tried their best to pitch around him and Rich Poythress. However, like Poythress, when pitchers did not hit their spots, Ramsbotham made them pay the price. Has signed to play at USC Aiken next season.
OF - Jeff Rowland, Soph. Lakeside - Rowland is as smooth as silk roaming the outfield. The Panthers know that very little will drop with him in center field. In Columbia County history, only former Greenbrier star Bradley Key had earned All-County honors four times. Rowland has a shot at that incredible milestone after two superb seasons at Lakeside.
Nolan Belcher, Freshman ACS - Belcher had one of the most incredible seasons in county history. He led ACS to its third state title by going 10-0 on the mound.
He also posted an astonishing 0.13 ERA and had 94 strikeouts in just 47 innings pitched. He was not too shabby at the plate, either, hitting .438 with 30 RBI.
Zack Baker, Sr. Evans - Baker was the clutch performer on the mound for an Evans team loaded with pitching. He was extremely versatile and was solid at the plate, too.
He was the guy the Knights wanted on the mound when the chips were down. He set a 9-1 record with two saves and a 2.73 ERA.
Sean Harrell, Sr. Lakeside - At times Harrell was the county's most dominant pitcher. In several key games for Lakeside he had the Panthers' opponents in a daze with his blazing fastball.
Ben Dukes, Sr. Greenbrier - Will join Brandon Crumpton to form a great 1-2 punch next season for the 'Pack.
C - Chris Banker, Sr. Lakeside - It was basically a toss-up for the first team spot between Banker and Harlem's Barrett Davis. Banker may have more college potential.
1b - Ryan Pressley, Sr. Evans - Likely draft pick later this month. Loads of potential, very diligent worker
2b - Matt Lewis, Sr. Harlem - Steady on the mound (1.88 ERA) and at second base for Jimmie Lewis' Bulldogs. .338 with 25 RBI
3b - Wayne House, Sr. ACS - Hit .431 with 34 RBIs for ACS. Big time clutch performer
SS - Rusty James, Sr. Harlem - True coaches' player and gifted athlete. Hit .345 with nine doubles and 23 RBI.
OF - Carl Burrow, Sr. Lakeside - Not as big a year as expected, but still a tremendous athlete with lots of talent
OF - Kyle Wilkerson, Sr. Evans - Unsung hero for Evans, had a ton of big hits early in the season
OF - Nolan Belcher, Fr. ACS - Deserved to make All-County at both spots. Hit .438 with 30 RBI. Hit over .500 for much of season. If he gets taller, pro scouts will spend a lot of time in the area in a few years.
Pitcher - Hank McCladdie, Sr. Evans - Narrowly missed out on the first team nod. He will pitch at the next level
Pitcher - Brad Freeman, Sr. Evans - Middle Georgia is getting a solid all-around player. Not flashy, just gets job done
Pitcher - Brandon Cumpton, Jr. Greenbrier - Cumpton was solid for Greenbrier all season.
He has a chance to be a very special player. He has gained some valuable experience during the past two seasons. Should anchor the Wolfpack's staff for the next two seasons. As the 'Pack's ace he faced some terrific opposing pitchers, but he certainly held his own.
Pitcher - Mike Morris, Sr. Harlem - Like McCladdie, Lewis could easily have been a first-teamer. 7-4 vs. Harlem's best opponents
Evans - Kevin Millward (Fr.), Wes Baxter (Jr.), Pat Foster, Jr., Josh Brodhecker, Jr. Greenbrier - Tuck Tucker (Soph.)
Harlem - Ryan Everett (Sr.), Chris Day (Sr.)
Lakeside - Tyler James (Sr.), Paul Bordon (Jr.), Craig Smith (Sr.), J.C.Huffman
ACS - John Sizemore, Lee Banks (Jr.), Hunter Hensley (Sr.), Taylor Hensley (Soph.)
Aug. Prep - Trey Minor (Sr.), Alex Murphey (Jr.)
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