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Six local baseball players named all-Sandhills

May 29—Local sports fans saw a lot of good baseball in the area this past spring, with three different teams in Lee County fielding players who would sign Division I offers at some point during the school year.

Three of those players called Lee County and Southern Lee high schools their home. Four Yellow Jackets and two Cavaliers were named to a talent-laden Sandhills Athletic Conference All-Conference Team. Three of them were seniors who are joining D1 teams in the fall. Another is bound for college in another sport, and two Jackets will be back for another go-round in the blue and gold next spring before likely heading off to college themselves.

Walker McDuffie leads off the four-player contingent for Lee Senior, finishing his four-year career with the Jackets with a spectacular season that will likely earn him All-State honors for a second year in a row when that team is announced next month. McDuffie, who long ago committed to UNC-Chapel Hill, posted a 6-1 record with an 0.53 ERA as a pitcher, striking out 119 batters in 66 innings. He was also strong at the plate, hitting .323 with an .822 OPS, while driving in 27 runs and scoring 23 in 31 games. In four seasons with the team, McDuffie struck out 346 batters in 200.2 innings and posted a 19-6 record.

His senior classmate BJ Brown has also left a lasting impact on the Jackets' program. Brown, who could have easily played college football as a running back and even won SAC Offensive Player of the Year in that sport in 2022, chose baseball and UNC-Wilmington. Brown has had a stellar career with the Jackets, hitting .371 in 88 games with 28 doubles, a triple and 14 home runs. In 2023, he hit .382 with a 1.187 OPS, driving in 26 runs and scoring 35 in 30 games. Brown, who had normally played in center field for Lee, did his best Mookie Betts impression this season and often played at shortstop, where he also excelled. He also stole 31 bases in 33 tries as a senior.

Joining the two seniors on the All-Conference list were juniors Luke Sheets and Drew Stanfield. Sheets spent much of his season hitting in horrible luck on balls in play, but it still didn't stop him from being a dangerous hitter despite a .260 batting average. Sheets spent much of the year leading off and walked an incredible 35 times while also getting hit by a pitch six times. This left him with a .508 on-base percentage which was only five points behind Brown for the team lead. On top of that, he was a perfect 22-for-22 on stolen base attempts for a Lee County team that went 21-10 and reached the quarterfinals of the NCHSAA 3A state playoffs.

Stanfield had a breakout season for the Yellow Jackets this spring. He had not played for the Lee varsity prior to 2023, but made an immediate impact both in the lineup and on the pitcher's mound. As a hitter, he hit .330 with eight doubles, two home runs, and 26 RBI. He made nine pitching appearances and was 3-1 with a 3.89 ERA, striking out 30 men in 29 innings of work.

At Southern Lee, the Cavaliers were unable to make an encore to their 2023 run to the 3A regional finals. Southern contended for a state playoff berth and even the top 3A spot in the league until the final week of the regular season, but was excluded from the state playoffs due to one of the NCHSAA's qualification provisions. That didn't stop Liberty University signee Cooper Harrington and fellow senior Marcus Tate-Blanks from earning All-Conference honors.

Tate-Blanks will pursue a college football career at Ferrum College this fall. A longtime standout for the Cavaliers on the gridiron, even when the team was struggling prior to his senior season, he had a huge senior year for Southern Lee baseball. After hitting just .184 in his first two varsity campaigns, Tate-Blanks hit .404 as a senior, leading the team and driving in 14 runs in the 21 games he played. He cut his strikeouts from 23 down to eight and made enormous strides with making better contact. He was sure-handed at first base and a smart baserunner who stole three bases in three tries as a senior.

Southern Lee's offense was almost carried by the two Cavalier offensive linemen playing baseball, as Tate-Blanks led the team in hitting with his future Ferrum teammate Caleb Waters second on the team at .379. But Harrington was the team's top player overall. He finished third on the team in batting average at .354 and also led the Cavaliers with 26 runs scored. He also had a breakout season with the bat, raising his average 90 points as a senior. But Harrington is, of course, best known for his pitching. He went 5-0 with a 2.33 ERA in his final season at Southern Lee, striking out 83 batters in 48 innings. For three varsity seasons with the team, he went 10-3 with a 1.95 ERA, with 176 strikeouts in 140 innings of work. Harrington stole 19 bases this season and was not caught once.