The Berkeley baseball team is making a strong push as the regular season winds down, and the Stags should be a contender for the Class AAA lower state championship this spring.

Berkeley was one of the final four teams in the lower state a year ago, and coach Landy Cox returned an experienced group that includes several three-year starters.

Pitching has been the strength during Berkeley's 15-2 start. The staff has a combined earned run average of 0.86 with 112 strikeouts against only 28 walks. Junior left-hander Joe Glauser is 4-1 with a 0.93 earned run average, while junior right-hander Zach Gonzales is 4-0 with a 1.55 earned run average.

Seniors Jeffrey Stone and Bryce Kunkle are a combined 6-1 and both have earned run averages under one.

Offensively, junior second baseman Dillon Salisbury is hitting .439 with a team-high 15 RBIs, while sophomore third baseman Chase Ganey, a first-year starter, is hitting .400.

"We've had a strong group of seniors continue to lead us but our underclassmen are really producing when called upon," says Cox. "This team loves to compete, and as a coach, that's all I can ask for."

Berkeley is closing in on a region 8-AAA title but has a huge region matchup looming with second-place Hilton Head on April 24. The Stags beat the Seahawks in their earlier region meeting and hold a one-game lead.

Out-of-state limitations

The Gold Bracket championship of the 24th annual Azalea Invitational softball tournament was decided in strange fashion earlier this week when one of the finalists, Canon McMillian of Pennsylvania, forfeited the title to Unicoi High of Tennessee.

Canon McMillian earned a trip to the finals with a thrilling 6-5 win over host and tournament favorite Summerville. However, due to a games limitation for varsity players in Pennsylvania, Canon opted not to play another game for fear of exceeding the limit at some point this season.

"It was disappointing that there was not a true championship game because it would have been a great contest between two really good teams," said Summerville head coach and tournament director Heather Tucker. "It's unfortunate that we were told by the coach that they could not play after the championship game had been decided. Maybe we could have re-worked the brackets and had a true championship game."

The tournament had four bracket champions with Stratford capturing the Bronze bracket and Fort Dorchester winning the White bracket championship. The championship game in the Silver Bracket between Beaufort and Chapin ended in a tie when heavy rains moved in and prevented the game from being completed.

This is hardly the first time an out-of-state team has played in a tournament here in South Carolina and was restricted by the number of games played during the event by their own state's rules.

In fact, several teams from Virginia that participated in this week's Hanahan Invitational baseball tournament were limited to four games, thus could not advance to the tournament championship game if they earned the right.

Hickory High of Chesapeake easily won its first two games by a combined score of 25-3, and would have been one of the favorites to contend for the title. However, the championship game would have been their fifth game of the tournament, and rules in Hickory's district allow only four games to be played in tournaments.

Saunders impressive

Burke High senior shot putter Raven Saunders continued to make national headlines for her expertise at last weekend's Taco Bell Classic in Columbia.

Saunders set a national high school outdoor record with a toss of 56 feet, 8 inches, shattering an 11-year old national record of 54-10.75.

In January, Saunders established the national high school indoor record at 56 feet, 7.5 inches, but was a half-inch better last weekend.

Saunders is a heavy favorite to shatter the South Carolina high school state record at the state meet in May. The current state record in the shot put is 44 feet, 10 inches. Saunders won the AA state championship with a throw of 35-10 last season but has improved her distance by more than 20 feet in the last year. State records can only be established at the state meet.

Limestone signee

Natalie Tucker, a 5-9 senior setter at Wando High School, signed a national letter of intent with Limestone College on April 16. She and her teammates led the Wando volleyball team to a lower state championship in 2013.

Tucker was The Post and Courier's Lowcountry Player of the Year, along with AAAA state selection, North-South all-star selection and a two-time all region player. She will join former Wando teammate Erin Courtney at Limestone College.