North Duplin seniors Gavin Lee and Kyle Smith expected to attend college after graduation and pursue agriculture-related degrees.
Neither intended to play baseball.
Until last Friday.
The duo announced they’ll play two more seasons together at perennial junior college power Lenoir Community College. The decision came after both players received a callback and were informed they each had a spot on the fall team.
Smith seemed skeptical, at first.
“Then [North Duplin] Coach [Colton] Chrisman stopped me and said, ‘I’m not forcing this at all, but I missed on an opportunity like this coming out of high school and I regret it every day,’” Smith said. “I thought to myself, he’s right. All I’ve ever done is play baseball. Why quit now when I’ve got an opportunity to keep going?”
A pair of talented utility players, Lee and Smith have helped guide North Duplin to one of its most-successful campaigns in school history. The Rebels (16-3 overall) captured the program’s first Carolina 1A regular-season crown since 2013 and third overall since 2011.
They earned the league’s automatic bid to the postseason.
“He showed us a new way of baseball, a brighter future,” Lee said of Chrisman. “I think our team responded to that in a positive way. I think everyone has opened up to it.”
A right-hander, Lee has logged 28 strikeouts and surrendered 11 earned runs in 23-plus innings of work. At the plate, he’s hitting .286 and is one of seven Rebels to drive in 10-plus runs this season.
Lee is part of an eight-player pitching staff that’s posted 139 strikeouts and held opposing teams to a .200 average.
Cool and confident at the plate, Smith is batting a crisp .500 with a team-best 24 hits. He’s part of an offense that’s fashioned a .325 average and stole 109 bases.
The duo feels like they can step in and assist the Lancers as freshmen. According to the current online roster, LCC loses just nine sophomores and is projected to return 31 freshmen for the 2023 season.
They’ll gladly play wherever head coach Gary Smith puts them.
“I like shortstop, but I think second base will be where I end up,” Smith said. “I don’t know that, though. I played second base all my life because I wasn’t strong enough to throw it from shortstop. I got moved to shortstop when I got to high school and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”