Here's a look at my top players in Columbia County entering the 2007 baseball season. Narrowing the list down to seven was difficult, but it is hard to argue with any of these choices. Also, I decided to add a "Player to Watch" as well.
1. Nolan Belcher
Belcher was as good as it gets in 2006. He led Greenbrier to the school's fourth state championship and a 35-1 record. Along the way, the diminutive lefty was virtually untouchable on the mound. He went 15-0 with a mind-blowing 0.73 ERA. He also struck out 156 batters in just 91 innings of work. He is also pretty good at the plate. He hit .395 last season with 13 doubles and 32 RBI. In two varsity seasons (2005 at Augusta Christian and 2006 at Greenbrier), he is 25-0 with two state titles.
2. Brandon Cumpton
In any other year, Cumpton would be talked about as the premier player in the county. And why not? He is 6-3, 190 pounds and is headed to Georgia Tech to play next season. He was 14-1 on the mound in 2006 and had 87 strikeouts with an ERA of 1.89. He was just as good at the plate, hitting .359 with 40 RBI. With his frame and ability, he has a chance to be a great player for the Yellow Jackets.
3. Josh Whitaker
(Sr. Augusta Christian)
Whitaker is back to try to lead ACS to a third consecutive state championship. Last season, most experts felt like losing Nolan Belcher would be too much for the Lions to overcome. However, Whitaker would not let this team lose. He hit .507 with 10 homers, 44 RBI and a slugging percentage above 1.000. He did all this in just 71 official at bats. The 2006 SCISA Player of the Year was also 3-0 on the mound. He is headed to Kennesaw State next season to play for one of the top baseball programs in the country.
4. Jeff Rowland
Rowland transferred from Lakeside to Greenbrier last season and helped key the 'Pack's incredible 35-1 season. He has been a varsity starter since he stepped foot on a high school campus. He might be the best defensive outfielder to ever play in Columbia County, and last season he proved he could handle a bat as well. The Georgia Tech signee hit .411 with seven homers and 32 RBI. He also led Greenbrier in at-bats (132) and runs scored (54).
5. J.C. Huffman
Huffman proved to be one of the top power hitters in the area in 2006. He hit .443 with eight home runs. He also had nine doubles and drove in 25 runs. Huffman is one of the county's top returning pitchers, and he showed off his power this summer by winning the Home Run Derby at the CSRA Prospect Showcase, beating out the top hitters from the area in both Georgia and South Carolina.
6. Kevin Millward
Millward will become a leader for the Knights this season. His skills are obvious. He was 7-2 on the mound last season with an ERA of 2.54. He also emerged as one of Evans' top hitters, batting .400 with five homers and 30 RBI. It is hard to believe he still has two seasons left for the Knights. In 2007, Millward will break through as one of the best all-around players in Columbia County.
7. Kyle Golden
Golden proved to be one of the best big game pitchers in the county in 2006. He was 6-2 with an ERA of 2.10. The number might not blow you away, but keep two things in mind: Evans played a brutally tough schedule, and Golden pitched in the Knights' most critical games all year. Golden is also one of the top athletes in the county. He wowed college scouts with his 60-yard dash times over the summer and is an excellent defensive outfielder.
Player to watch in 2007
Zach Lawson (Sr. Lakeside)
Lawson is a versatile and scrappy infielder who is always at full speed. He had a solid junior season for Lakeside, but he really came on over the summer. He went 3-for-3 with three runs scored in helping Team Georgia to a win in the CSRA Prospect Showcase. Playing in front of numerous college and pro scouts, he shined with his all-out hustle and line-drive power. Lawson has good strength for his size and is one of those players that coaches love to have and fans love to watch because of his all-out style of play.
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