High school baseball: Nathan Chrismon was huge in the postseason to top All-Rowan County team

Published 12:03 am Sunday, June 26, 2022

By Mike London

LANDIS — The three seniors hitting at the top of South Rowan’s lineup combined for 132 hits, 74 stolen bases, 128 runs scored and 96 RBIs.

Take a breath and let those staggering totals sink in. Yes, the Raiders got to play 36 games, but still …

“Three experienced seniors,” South head coach Thad Chrismon said. “They gave us great at-bats all season.”

East Rowan pitcher Cameron Padgett called Kane Kepley, Nathan Chrismon and Ty Hubbard the best 1-2-3 punch in the state last week.

It’s hard to argue with his assessment.

Kepley, the center fielder, and Hubbard, the second baseman, were voted South Piedmont Conference Co-Players of the Year at the end of the regular season.

Chrismon, the shortstop, is the Post’s Mark Norris Memorial Award Winner as Rowan County Player of the Year.

It’s fitting that all three will take a POTY award away from a state-championship season, but Chrismon’s county honor isn’t just a matter of evening things up.

The son of South’s head coach, Chrismon was immense in the intense postseason. His home run in the SPC Tournament championship game with East Rowan changed the course of South’s athletic history, and he delivered critical hits during the playoff march as well as both of South Rowan’s victories in the 3A State Championship Series.

The top-of-the-lineup trio’s stats reflected where they batted on a South lineup card that never changed because no changes were necessary. If it’s not broke, you don’t fix it.

As you’d expect, lead-off man Kepley scored the most runs. As you’d expect, Hubbard, swinging in the No. 3 hole with two rabbits in front of him, had the most RBIs. No. 2 hitter Chrismon was second in both categories.

Hubbard amassed 39 RBIs, while Chrismon had 36.  Kepley crossed the plate 47 times, while Chrismon scored 42 runs. Those are the two biggest run-scoring seasons by a South player in this century.

Besides providing relentless offense, all three seniors were run-saving, up-the-middle defenders.

‘They made plays that helped out our pitchers,” Coach Chrismon said. “Backhanded double plays, bare-handed double plays, diving plays, tremendous throws, you name it.”

South’s batting averages for the season were remarkable, considering the arms the Raiders faced on Tuesdays and Fridays in the SPC and in almost all of their playoff match-ups.

Chrismon batted .363 with enough walks and HBPs for a .460 on-base percentage. His 41 hits included four triples. He stole 23 bases.

He’ll be remembered at South for his at-bat on May 5. South and East Rowan were 2-all in the fourth inning. Chrismon had struck out twice against East’s towering right-handed Chance Mako, an N.C. State commit. Mako got ahead of him once again, but this time he couldn’t put him away.

“Nathan had a clutch, very intense at-bat,” Coach Chrismon said. “With two strikes on him, he took a curveball that stayed a little high. That was a tough take, but a great take. It’s hard to teach that. He’s got a knack for it.”

After the near-miss curve, Mako tried a fastball. It was the 10th pitch of a grueling at-bat for both standouts. Chrismon hit this one in the parking lot, a three-run homer that propelled South to the SPC Tournament title. The ramifications of that shot heard ’round the county went far beyond  securing a trophy.  It meant home field for South throughout the 3A West playoffs. The No. 1 seed in the bracket rode on that one lethal swing.

“Nathan battled until he got a fastball, and that was as perfect a swing as I’ve ever seen him make,” South catcher Jacob Ritchie said.

Chrismon generally plays the game even-keel, never getting too high or too low, but he felt his emotions exploding right through his chest as that baseball headed out of the park.

“That was the most emotion I’ve ever shown on a ball field,” he said. “I remember looking over at our dugout because that swing was for all those guys. That swing wasn’t for me.”

The plays kept coming for him. He made his finest defensive play of the year in the second-round win against South Point, charging to make a nearly impossible barehand play.

“There were some bigger plays at State, but as far as difficulty, that was the best play I made,” the shortstop said.

In the third round of the 3A state playoffs, South faced East Rowan for the fourth time. This time the Raiders were up against Padgett, who had won 16 straight decisions in 2020, 2021 and 2022. The UNC recruit came into the game with a 10-0 record and an o.40 ERA and already had beaten the Raiders once.

The Chrismons conferred before Nathan walked to the plate for a pivotal fourth-inning at-bat against Padgett.

“I told him to watch for the curveball because just about everyone throws Nathan curveballs,” Coach Chrismon said. “But he had a feeling he’d see a fastball from Padgett, and he got what he was looking for.”

Chrismon’s triple off the wall was a key part of a seven-run inning. South won 8-3.

South lost at East Lincoln in Game 2 of the 3A West Championship Series, so a good start was needed in the decisive Game 3.

South got it. Kepley got on base. Chrismon doubled him home. Hubbard knocked in Chrismon. After three batters, it was 2-0. The Raiders were on their way.

South Rowan lost 4-3 in the opening game of the 3A State Championship Series to South Brunswick.

Chrismon’s 3-for-4 with two runs was critical in a 4-2 comeback win in Game 2. He also threw a runner out at the plate with South clinging to a 3-2 lead.

That play was a tough call for Coach Chrismon with runners at second and third. Bringing the infield in severely reduces the angles for fielders and any ball not hit directly at a fielder is probably going to go through the infield. A ground ball through the normal shortstop position might have meant two runs.

“I felt like we had to keep the lead at that point in the game and not play conservative,” Coach Chrismon explained. “Sometimes you have to pick your hill and stand on it. We’d seen that batter swing, and we knew if we made our pitch, we’d have a chance to make a play.”

Carson Crainshaw made the pitch. Chrismon charged, gloved the ball, and threw a strike to catcher Jacob Ritchie. Ritchie made the tag. South held the lead.

“Nathan made a perfect throw,” Ritchie said. “Made my job easy.”

Added Nathan,” We’d prepared all season in practice to be able to make that play, and when we had to make it, we made it.”

Game 3 of the 3A State Championship Series would be the last game for South Rowan’s many seniors. South trailed 6-2 early, but a two-run single by Chrismon helped the Raiders come back. He got that hit on another extended at-bat, fouling pitches, taking pitches, until he got one he could hammer.

“Our guys never went up there looking for a 10-pitch at-bat just to run up someone’s pitch count,” Coach Chrismon said. “I think they would have been very happy with getting a hit on the second or third pitch. But we did work hard on our two-strike approaches and we had some very long at-bats. We weren’t just trying to put the ball in play with two strikes. We were still trying to get a hit, and a lot of times we did.”

That was one of them.

“Just competing hard on that long at-bat,” Nathan said. “If you foul off tough pitches, spoil some good pitches, even the best pitchers can eventually make a mistake. Then you try to do some damage with the mistake.”

He didn’t miss many mistakes in a banner season.

Nathan has played football and basketball for the Raiders. His quickness made him successful in both sports, but his final high school year was going to be all about baseball, with no distractions.

Last fall, he played baseball with another long-time group of teammates, the South Charlotte Panthers, and he also started workouts with his South Rowan buddies.

A dream season resulted.

Last week, three Chrismons (Thad, Nathan and South AD Angie, Nathan’s mother) met with Eric Norris at Porky’s in China Grove to receive the Mark Norris Memorial Award.

There have been some outstanding recent award winners.  Salisbury High’s Vance Honeycutt, 2021 honoree, was a sensation as a UNC freshman this season. Carson graduate Owen White, a two-time Norris Award winner, moved up to Double-A in the minor leagues this week.

The award has been given by the Norris family every year since 1978. The first five were bestowed on the Salisbury High MVP because Mark Norris, Eric’s brother, had been a standout catcher for the Hornets. Mark was killed in a traffic accident while he was a student at UNC Pembroke.

In 1983, the Mark Norris Memorial Award transitioned into a countywide Rowan County Player of the Year honor.

Those trophies cost $45 when the Norris family purchased the first one in 1978. That same trophy costs $200 now, which says something about inflation, but it also speaks to how long the Norris family has continued to contribute to Rowan County athletics.

There have been four occasions over the years when the Norris family was asked to provide two awards for co-winners — and did so cheerfully.

Chrismon is the first South winner since outfielder Maverick Miles was a co-winner in 2010.  South’s previous honorees were Andrew Morgan (2003), Larry Ballard (1996) and Paul Meckes (1988).

Chrismon headed to East Carolina on Wednesday to start the next chapter of his baseball and educational life. He’ll take two courses this summer. He’s part of a powerful recruiting class. He may end up in the  outfield for the Pirates, but he could also stick in the dirt at second base or shortstop.

He’ll compete. He’ll fight off the tough pitches and he’ll do whatever he needs to do to get on the field.


All-Rowan County

SOUTH (30-6,  NC ranking No. 4)

Nathan Chrismon, SS — Mark Norris Memorial Award Winner, 42 runs, 36 RBIs

Ty Hubbard, 2B — Catawba signee batted .442 with county-leading 39 RBIs

Kane Kepley, CF  — Liberty signee scored 47 runs, stole 33 bases, stellar defender

Haiden Leffew, P — Wake Forest commit was dominating pitcher — 10-2, 1.32 ERA, 124 strikeouts — and knocked in 30 runs as a much-improved hitter

Jacob Ritchie, C — Cleanup man delivered 37 RBIs

Carson Crainshaw, P — 9-1 on the bump and helped out offensively with 20 RBIs

JD James, 1B — State championship series MVP, hit walk-off homer to end the West Championship Series, 22 RBIs

Chandler Oddie, P — 8-0, 4 saves, 1.99 ERA, No. 3 pitcher turned in remarkable season

EAST (25-5, NC ranking No. 8)

Cameron Padgett, P — Patrick Snider Memorial Award Winner as Pitcher of the Year for Rowan County and also for the South Piedmont Conference, good offensively with 28 runs, 19 steals

Cobb Hightower, SS — UNC commit batted .429 with 35 runs, 25 RBIs

Chance Mako, P — N.C. State commit was 8-1 with 83 strikeouts, 1.62 ERA

Griffin Warden, CF — Batted .344 with 33 runs, 23 RBIs

Aiden Schenk, LF — .409 hitter with four homers, 25 RBIs

Logan Dyer, DH  — Batted .382 and was outstanding reliever with 3 wins, 3 saves

CARSON (18-11, NC ranking No. 50)

Hayden Simmerson, P — Uncommitted rising senior won 6 games, while striking out 117, 1.36 ERA, led Cougars with 15 doubles, 19 RBIs

Cameron Burleyson, C — Second on the team in runs, third in RBIs, defensive standout

Mikey Beasley, P — 5-0 on the mound with 2.26 ERA

Jordan King, DH — Batted .347, second on the team with 16 RBIs

WEST (15-11, NC ranking No. 69)

Casey Gouge, P —Catawba recruit won six on the mound, led Falcons in runs scored, second in RBIs

Luke Graham, 2B — Led West with 30 hits, .357 batting average

Zander Burton, CF — Hit .333 with  10 doubles, team-high 26 RBIs

Matthew Connolly, C — Batted .305 with 14 RBIs

SALISBURY  (14-10, NC ranking No. 393)

Kaleb Burleyson, P/C — .429, 30 RBIs, 31 runs, 5 wins on the mound

Cole Price, P/C — .397, 20 RBIs, 2 wins

NORTH (4-14, NC ranking No. 512)

Trey Johnson, SS — Led county with .467 batting average, 3 triples