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McKinney North rising sophomore Kaelyn Hamilton was named offensive player of the year in District 10-5A.

The 29th ESPY Awards, the annual ceremony devoted to honoring standout professional and collegiate athletes and teams of the past year, aired on Saturday.

It's the sports equivalent to the Oscars or Grammys, so Star Local Media has decided in recent years to put a high school spin on the concept.

The 2020-21 school year won’t be soon forgotten by the athletes, coaches and fans involved, as high schools adapted to the change brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and managed to play out a full year of high school sports.

During that time, McKinney showcased no shortage of notable individual and team athletic achievements, so it’s only appropriate to put the last year of local sports into an award-winning perspective. In the coming weeks, the city’s top athletes, teams and games will be recognized among nine different awards.

With that said, Star Local Media presents the ninth edition of The Varsitys.

Best Game

McKinney Christian vs. Emery/Weiner baseball, May 8

McKinney Christian’s baseball team enjoyed its deepest playoff run ever in 2021, advancing to the TAPPS Division II state semifinals. That trip to Waco was made possible by an improbable comeback in the state quarterfinals against Emery/Weiner.

The Mustangs trailed by as many as 13 runs at 14-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth inning and rallied behind 14 unanswered runs over their final four frames for a 15-14 win. 

In addition to combing for 29 runs, the two offense totaled 30 hits in the shootout — the bulk of those hits coming late in the ballgame as McKinney sparked its furious rally.

The Mustangs totaled 17 hits over their last four innings at bat — eight singles, eight doubles and a home run. They totaled six hits in the bottom of the fourth alone, scoring six runs to cut the deficit to 14-7.

McKinney chipped away from there, drawing even at 14-14 in the bottom of the sixth inning after an RBI double from Jacob Finke. One inning later, Cooper Roach delivered a walk-off single to score Hayden Faulkner and seal the win.

The Mustangs had seven players log multiple hits in the victory, including three-hit nights for Ryan Radtke, Hudson Cross and Roach. 

On the year, McKinney finished with a 20-7-1 record. 

Breakthrough Athlete

Kaelyn Hamilton, McKinney North girls basketball

Hamilton wasn’t afforded a typical freshman season, tasked with taking the reins of a Lady Bulldog team that contended for a district championship and pushed an eventual state runner-up to the brink in the playoffs.

Already ahead of the curve entering her first year of high school hoops, Hamilton stepped into the lead scoring role for North after the midseason departure of leading scorer Amaria Fields and thrived — as a freshman, she averaged 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.0 steals on the year.

Hamilton helped lead North to a second-place finish in District 10-5A and was named the conference’s offensive player of the year. 

She carried that effort into the playoffs where the Lady Bulldogs nearly took down defending state champion Frisco Liberty in a 29-27 bi-district loss. One of the stingiest defenses in the state, Liberty had no answer for Hamilton — despite North’s second- and third-leading scorers, Ciara Harris and Cheyenne Wooten, missing the game, Hamilton managed to score 17 of the Lady Bulldogs’ 27 points in the loss.

Biggest Moment

High school sports return during COVID-19 pandemic

To what extent there would even be a high school athletics year was in question during the summer of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down springtime sports around the state in March 2020 and put local high school programs in limbo as to what would lie ahead.

A light at the end of the tunnel appeared in June when schools were given the go-ahead to conduct limited summer workouts with an added emphasis on hygiene and social distancing.

The next dominoes fell in mid-July when the UIL staggered the start of the athletics year for the state’s smallest and largest classifications — delaying the start of sports like football and volleyball until September for 5A and 6A schools.

As areas like Celina took to the playing field on schedule in August, it required adapting to myriad protocols — limitations on attendance, socially distanced crowds and sideline benches, plus athletes competing while masked.

It was the “new normal” of trying to afford student-athletes an opportunity to ply their crafts during a pandemic, and although it meant braving plenty of change, it was a welcome sight for the athletes, coaches and fans alike.

By the end of the school year, the UIL completed its entire athletics calendar and crowned state champions in every classification.

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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