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Leland Hot Stove League honors two Scorpions

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By Michael Paul, Sports Editor

 LELAND—Two North Brunswick High School baseball players were honored Saturday during the ninth annual Leland Hot Stove League banquet.

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Matthew Lowry was named the North Brunswick baseball Player of the Year.

Dylan Reed was named the recipient of the Nelson Best Scholarship.

North Brunswick baseball coach Randy Fennell spoke about Lowry’s accomplishments, noting most significantly that Lowry was the North Carolina Class 2A Player of the Year.

Fennell told a story “that will forever be in my mind, my heart” about Lowry.

Fennell recalled during a playoff game at Topsail, Lowry came to bat in a bunt situation in the fifth inning and the Scorpions down 1-0. The Topsail coach called time to set his defense, and during the wait Fennell spoke to Lowry, telling him that everyone was anticipating a bunt.

“‘You know what you’re going to have to do right here, don’t you?”’ Fennell told Lowry.

“He looked at me in the eyes and said, ‘Coach, let me hit. I’m going to hit a home run.’

“I said, ‘Go for it.’ I (took off) the bunt.

“First pitch, they tried to challenge him with a fastball, and he hit it about 370 (feet) over the left-field wall.

“He called it. That’s the kind of player he was.”

Last season, Lowry was North’s top pitcher and top batter (.470 average).

“I know as coach you’re not supposed to have favorites,” Fennell said, “But, really, don’t we really have that tighter (relationship) with somebody?”

In announcing the winner of the Nelson Best Scholarship, Donald Sellers said leadership, sportsmanship, citizenship and academics were among the factors considered in selecting the recipient.

“In other words, we want the All-American boy,” Sellers said before he announced Reed was to receive the $2,500 scholarship.

Gary LaRocque, who is in the St. Louis Cardinals’ administration, and Methodist University baseball coach Tom Austin were the featured speakers.

LaRocque’s 32-year career in Major League Baseball has included stints as a Minor League Baseball player, manager and coach. He was named Manager of the Year in the Pioneer League in 1981 and Gulf Coast League in 1983 while managing in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. Upon a move into the Dodgers scouting operation in 1989, he served as an amateur scout and regional scouting supervisor for nine seasons before being hired as director of amateur scouting for the New York Mets in 1999.

A resident of North Carolina, LaRocque was a professional scout for the Mets during the 2007 season. Before that, he was vice president, professional scouting (2006) and vice president, player development and scouting (2004-05). While overseeing amateur drafts as part of his many duties for the Mets, he was responsible for the signings of Major Leaguers David Wright and Scott Kazmir.

In 2008, LaRocque was hired to be the Cardinals’ senior special assistant to the general manager. He came to St. Louis after spending the previous10 years in senior management levels for the New York Mets.

Completing his 33rd year as head baseball coach at Methodist, Austin sports a 1,007-435-9 career record and became only the sixth coach in the history of NCAA Division III baseball to reach the 1,000-victory plateau. In his 33 seasons at Methodist, Austin’s teams have never won fewer than 22 games in a season. Included in that are 17 30-win seasons and two 40-win seasons. The Monarchs have had 33 straight 20-win seasons under Austin.

He has moved up to second all-time amongst active Division III head coaches in victories and to sixth all-time among Division III coaches.

During his tenure at Methodist, Austin has guided the Monarchs to six NCAA Division III College World Series (1986, ’88, ’91, ’92, ’95, ’96), finishing no lower than fifth. Their best finish occurred in the 1995 season, when the Monarchs finished as the national runners-up.

Twenty-nine players under Austin have garnered NCAA Division III All-American honors.

North Brunswick High School senior Jacob Shumate has signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Methodist.