The 2021 high school baseball season starts in less than two weeks, and the excitement is palpable around Union County after the global COVID-19 pandemic shut down the 2020 season in March.
This year’s race for supremacy in the county should be hotly contested, as powers Marvin Ridge and Weddington will try to hold off Cuthbertson, Sun Valley and a host of other local schools.
Here’s a look at three players who could challenge for Union County Player of the Year honors come season’s end.
John Newton, Sr., Cuthbertson
Newton is one of Cuthbertson’s elder statesmen, but he’s made an impact for the Cavaliers since joining the team as a freshman in 2018.
That season, Newton was named The Enquirer-Journal’s Freshman of the Year after hitting .286 with 18 hits, six doubles and eight RBI. He followed it up by hitting .288 with 21 hits and 11 more RBI.
Newton was on a tear last year before the season was shut down. In three games, the outfielder hit .714 with five hits and six RBI. The UNC-Wilmington commit will look to pick up where he left off when the Cavaliers kick off the season Apr. 27 on the road against Weddington.
Brandon Hudson, Sr., Cuthbertson
Another Cavalier with a decent shot at taking home Player of Pitcher of the Year honors in 2021 is senior Brandon Hudson. The 6-foot-4 right-hander was overshadowed somewhat last season by senior teammate Cade Kuehler — who threw last season’s only no-hitter — but the statistics show that Hudson was no slouch on the mound.
In two starts, Hudson — an N.C. State commit with a low-90s fastball — went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA and a county-high 21 strikeouts. As a team last season, Cuthbertson went 3-0 in 2020 with a win over Cox Mill and two shutout victories over rival Weddington.
If Hudson and Newton are playing to their potential, this season could be Cuthbertson’s best shot to take over as the county’s best team. The Cavaliers have gone 33-21 in three seasons under head coach Mike Matkovich but are looking for their first 20-win season since 2017.
Jimmy Kerley, Sr, Sun Valley
Known as well for his contributions on the Sun Valley football team’s offensive line, senior Jimmy Kerley was the breakout star of last year’s shortened season.
In four games, all of which Sun Valley won, Kerley hit .385 with four hits while leading the county in home runs (2) and RBI (7). Kerley’s power should make him an ideal cleanup hitter for the Spartans this season.
Kerley — who is committed to play for Kutztown University in Pennsylvania — will try to help the Spartans finish a full season with a winning record for the first time since they went 14-13 in Sam Howell’s last year with the team in 2018.