2023 Smoky Mountain Conference Preseason Baseball Rankings & Players To Watch

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Photo courtesy of Joanna McMahan

The 2023 spring baseball season is now underway here in Western North Carolina, and we wanted to do a quick rundown of who to watch for in the Smoky Mountain Conference. Some big names graduated away last Fall, but some new faces are looking to fill those shoes here in 2023. From Michael Mauney at Hayesville and Robert Turner at Murphy to Rowan Ellis at Swain and everywhere in between, the underclassmen talent that we will see on this baseball field this year in the Smoky Mountain Conference will be second to none. 


But, the underclassmen will have to wait their turn to be in the Player of the Year conversation, as Avery Leatherwood is our 2023 Preseason SMC Player of The Year. As he returned from injury last season, the 6’1”, 200lb catcher batted over .500 on the year, and was a dominant force defensively for the Jackets behind the plate. This year should be Leatherwood’s time to shine, as he will be over a year removed from injury and ready to showcase his skills in his senior campaign. 

Preseason SMC Player of The Year, Avery Leatherwood (Hayesville)


Here is our best guess at how things will play out this year on the diamond with our 2023 preseason SMC rankings:

1. Hayesville

Hayesville looks locked and loaded to make a run at another SMC title this spring, and the only weird thing about that statement is they’ll be doing it without longtime head coach Jeff Vardo as he stepped down from the position after last season. Joe Sellers will be the new skipper for the Yellow Jackets, and he inherits a roster riddled with talent. With only one starter lost from last year’s 10 and 5 team, the Jackets return a very experienced roster in terms of playing time. Led by Preseason Player of The Year Avery Leatherwood, Hayesville will look to run the table in 2023. 


2. Murphy

The Bulldogs finished second in the race for the conference title in 2022, and I think they will be back near the top again in 2023. While they lost some important pieces to graduation last season, they’ll still have 6 Senior starters on the field in 2023. If Isaac Cole and Cole Laney can perform well on the mound, they should be able to compete with anyone in the conference. 


3. Hiwassee Dam

The Eagles return all but one starter from last year’s roster. With another year of experience under Evan Hedrick and Clay Davis’ belt, Hiwassee Dam looks like they could be fielding their best team since 2015, when they won the SMC championship. It honestly wouldn’t shock me if we see a 2 or 3 way tie for first at the end of the season, with the Eagles being one of those tied teams. 


4. Swain

Last year, the Swain County Maroon Devils came away with the SMC title thanks to some stellar pitching from Carson Taylor and Charlie Collins. Now with both of those guys gone, they’ll have to reload their rotation. They’ll still have reigning FYNSports Player of The Year Carter Hayes behind the plate, but they are definitely going to have to figure things out on the mound. 


5. Cherokee

Donald Bradley is the only member of last year’s Braves team not on the roster in 2023. While Bradley was undoubtedly the best player in the Garnet and Gold last year, the Braves as a whole should be a better team. Cavan Reed will handle the majority of the pitching duties for Cherokee, while Zechariah Maney might be their biggest threat in the batters box. 


6. Robbinsville

The Black Knights struggled in the early part of the season last year, but looked like they were finally putting some things together towards the end. While they weren’t hit necessarily hard by graduation, they will have to revamp their bullpen due to losing their top two pitchers in terms of innings pitched. 


7. Andrews

The Wildcats were held winless in 2022, but maybe new head coach Brian Wilson can help turn things around for the Wildcats in 2023. Isaac Weaver will still be the goto guy for the Cats as he returns for his senior season, but it will be interesting to see what the underclassmen look like when the Cats take the field vs Cherokee on March 14th. 

Preseason All-SMC


Carter Hayes (Swain)


First Base: 

Kyle Lunsford (Hayesville)


Second Base:

Isaac Weaver (Andrews)


Third Base:

Cade Denton (Hayesville)


Short Stop:

Evan Hedrick (Hiwassee Dam)



Mason Cook (Murphy)

Isaiah Temple (Murphy)

Xavier Otter (Cherokee)

Pitching Staff:

Isaac Cole (Murphy)

Braxton Cherry (Hayesville)

Clay Davis (Hiwassee Dam)



Cole Laney (Murphy)

Lathan Buchanan (Robbinsville)

Gabe Lillard (Swain)

Cavan Reed (Cherokee)

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