On a Sunday, most people are hanging with family, or if you are a college student, probably doing homework. This is not the case if you're a high school baseball recruit; playing baseball on the weekends in the summer and fall soon becomes a lifestyle for many.
One of the elite showcase organizations in the country is the South Charlotte Panthers. This organization has been around for 20 years and has sent many players to NC State head coach Elliott Avent over the years, including junior left-handed pitcher Nick Swiney.
The Panthers took care of business Sunday at Louisburg College, defeating the Richmond Braves 4-2, but of interest to NC State fans, this team is very unique, as the Panthers have seven NC State commits on its team this fall.
“Coach Avent and I are kind of in the same generation, and he has always liked the way our teams have played,” said South Charlotte Panthers manager Don Hutchins. “They’ve liked the way they’ve done things on and off the field. Obviously their athleticism and their play in that regard means a lot to him.”
Next week, the Panthers will travel to Jupiter, Florida for the 2019 WWBA Perfect Game tournament, which is the biggest showcase tournament in the country every year and a hub for MLB scouts looking for future prospects. Wolfpack fans can keep an eye on some real talent in the Panthers team that will lead the Wolfpack at Doak Field in the coming years.
Cameron Arnold is a senior left-handed pitcher out of Lake Norman High School in Mooresville, North Carolina. He has topped out at 87 mph at Perfect Game tournaments and struck out 58 batters in 49 innings pitched his junior year of high school.
“I want to keep what I’m doing, being consistent and working hard, getting with the guys and having a good time and getting better all-around with the team.” Arnold said.
Cooper King is another senior pitcher for the Panthers committed to NC State. The tall right-hander out of Carmel Christian High School in Indian Trail, N.C. is 6-foot-3 and has topped out at 91 mph at Perfect Game tournaments.
Jacob Cozart is a junior catcher and first baseman at Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, N.C. The 6-foot-3 athlete has been rated a 9 of 10 prospect grade by Perfect Game. Cozart said he models his game after NC State junior catcher Patrick Bailey, who also went to Wesleyan Christian.
“[Associate head coach Chris Hart] and coach Avent are great guys and develop their players really well,” Cozart said. “Everyone that goes there becomes a better player, and I hope they do that for me.”
Carson Kelly is a junior pitcher who has caught the eye of NC State coaches. Kelly, who is out of Lee County High School, has topped out at 88 mph at Perfect Game tournaments.
Junior right-handed pitcher Brandon Hudson is 6-foot-4 out of Cuthbertson High School. He has touched 91 mph on the radar gun at Perfect Game tournaments. Perfect Game ranks him as the No. 1 pitcher in North Carolina for the 2021 class.
Moving onto the sophomore class, the Panthers have two players committed to NC State from rival high schools in Lincoln County: Matt Heavner, a middle infielder from North Lincoln, and Graham Smiley, a catcher and third baseman from East Lincoln.
Heavner is an athletic frame and a magician in the field, not to mention he was the leading hitter on a 2A State Championship team in the spring. Smiley started at catcher for East Lincoln his freshman year, had a .309 batting average and shows great upside with the power in his bat.
Both of these young talents are ranked No. 1 in their respective positions for the 2022 class in North Carolina according to Perfect Game. Despite their youth, they will go down to Jupiter and compete with the best of the best of the 2020 class next week.
“It's just fun knowing that we will be roommates together one day,” Heavner said about competing with Smiley in high school. “And it's fun to have that internal competition against each other.”
All of these players have great upside and are in great hands with the Panthers organization. The amount of travel and commitment playing for a team like South Charlotte, plus the competition, prepares them to come and be successful at a school like NC State.
“Through the years, as coach Avent has gotten guys from us, those guys have proven to be his kind of guys,” Hutchins said. “Coach Avent trusts me, and in turn I trust him when they show interest in our kids, when telling them that's probably a pretty good place to go, because it's a pretty good fit there, and we have been lucky enough to have a lot of success in that regard.”
All in all, these seven recruits will have to prove their worth just like all the other players when they get to campus. However, the fact that so many of them are already playing together can strengthen the NC State baseball team in the coming years as it continues to climb the ladder as one of the best programs in the country.