One of the nation's longest-running spring break high school baseball tournaments takes place next week as the 45th annual Hanahan Invitational Tournament provides quality prep action all over the Lowcountry.

The tournament was started by former Hanahan High baseball coach Tom Hatfield as a way for local prep teams to gain more experience during spring break. The event exploded into one of the nation's top tournaments under the direction of Hanahan coach Bill Steadman in the 1990's.

Steadman, with help from then Stall head coach Jerry Stoots and current James Island coach Tom Hatley, was able to attract several top programs from Florida to the event, including perennial national power Westminster Academy of Fort Lauderdale and Miami Senior High. Top teams from the Northeast joined the fray, making the event bigger than anyone ever expected.

At the same time, local baseball talent was exploding and the combined talent in one area attracted major attention from professional baseball scouts and college coaches.

"It became big, real big," recalls Steadman, now retired but living locally and presents the Most Valuable Player at the championship game each year. "Basically, guys like coach Stoots and coach Hatley wanted to compete against those big-time teams. We wanted to see how Lowcountry baseball stacked up with the best around the country. They were very instrumental in making this tournament so big and so competitive.

"The teams from up North that were going to Florida figured out it is more economical to play in South Carolina. And the teams in Florida loved coming here because there were no limitations on games in our state as there was in Florida. It all just came together and became a huge part of the area during spring break."

This year's tournament involves 32 varsity teams, including 16 teams from the Charleston area and 16 teams from other areas of South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.

Hanahan High is the host, but games will be played at eight local high schools in all corners of the tri-county area, culminating with a championship game on Thursday evening at Hanahan.

Summerville, the top-ranked AAAA team in the state this spring, is the defending champion, beating Starr's Mill, Ga., in the finals last season. Summerville is again the favorite going in, but the field includes several strong contenders.

Ashley Ridge, Hartsville and Berkeley will challenge for a spot in the championship out of one bracket. Heading up the other bracket are Wando, James Island, Goose Creek and Beaufort.

The tournament is divided into two brackets - Steadman and Hatfield. After pool play games on Monday and Tuesday, the bracket semifinals and finals are played on Wednesday. The two bracket champions will play for the overall title on Thursday.

Teams are guaranteed three games but also have the option for more games that are not counted in the tournament.

The tournament also includes a 16-team junior varsity tournament for the 15th consecutive year. The junior varsity tournament is played during the morning and early afternoon hours.

What: 45th annual Hanahan Invitational Tournament

Where: Eight high school venues around the Lowcountry

When: April 13-17

Defending champion: Summerville (defeated Starr's Mills, Ga.)

Monday Games (Monday winners play Tuesday)

Bill Steadman Division

at Hanahan

Chantilly, Va. vs Summerville 5 p.m

Covenant Day, N.C. vs. Hanahan 7:30 p.m.

at Ashley Ridge

James River, Va. vs. Woodland 5 p.m.

Hickory Grove, N.C. vs. Ashley Ridge 7:30 p.m.

at Fort Dorchester

Hartsville, S.C. vs. Oakton, Va. 5 p.m.

Academic Magnet vs. Fort Dorchester 7:30 p.m.

at Berkeley

Great Bridge, Va. vs. Timberland 5 p.m.

Colleton County vs. Berkeley 7:30 p.m.

Tom Hatfield Division

at Bishop England

York vs. Goose Creek 5 p.m.

Madison, Va. vs. Bishop England 7:30 p.m.

at Cane Bay

Hickory, Va. vs. Pinewood Prep 5 p.m.

Beaufort, S.C. vs. Cane Bay 7:30 p.m.

at James Island

Lake Braddock, Va. vs. Stratford 5 p.m.

Nation Ford, S.C. vs. James Island 7:30 p.m.

at Wando

Grassfield, Va. vs. Unicoi, Tenn. 5 p.m.

Westfield, Va. vs Wando 7:30 p.m.