West Ashley's breakthrough season came last year when the Wildcats won the first outright region title in the baseball program's history and advanced to a district championship game.
S.C. BASEBALL COACHES POLL
2. West Ashley
7. Fort Mill
8. Ashley Ridge
9. Nation Ford
1. AC Flora
9. Hilton Head
1. St. Joseph's
4. Fox Creek
5. East Clarendon
8. Ware Shoals
10. Southside Christian
As the 2014 playoffs begin this week, West Ashley coach Mitch Miggenberg is hoping his team can build on that breakthrough this season.
"Last year, some of our guys had never even been in a playoff game," said Miggenberg, whose 18-4 Wildcats are ranked No. 2 in the state in Class AAAA. "It's not that we were just happy to be there, but we had a lot to learn.
"To win three playoff games and to travel up to Sumter to play a great team, all of that really helped, and we now have a better idea of what to look for in the playoffs. That will only benefit us."
West Ashley advanced to the district finals last year and had to win at Sumter twice to make the Lower State finals. The Wildcats won the first game but lost the second.
This season, Sumter is ranked No. 1 in the state and could again be West Ashley's chief obstacle to the Lower State finals. But first, the Wildcats must win the District VI tournament, a four-team, double-elimination format.
Weather permitting, West Ashley will host Colleton County at 7 p.m. Thursday, with White Knoll at West Florence.
Wildcats senior Jonathan Sabo, the All-Lowcountry player of the year last year, has followed that up with another stellar season. He's batting .456 with 13 runs batted-in, and on the mound is 6-1 with a 1.12 earned-run average. Sabo plays shortstop when he's not pitching, and has committed to play in college at USC Lancaster.
Second baseman Tyrie Blalock has been a pleasant surprise, batting .460, and right fielder J.C. Rodriguez is batting .429 in his first varsity season.
Catcher was a major question marking heading into the season, but Jamie Duke has stepped in and played well, batting .400. First baseman Taylor Oden, another USC Lancaster commitment, leads the team with six home runs and 31 RBIs. Citadel commitment Jordan Merritt, a junior, is hitting .407 and is 5-1 with a 2.60 ERA as a pitcher.
Elsewhere in Class AAAA, eighth-ranked Ashley Ridge opens the District VIII tournament at home against Wando. Goose Creek is at home against Beaufort in District V, the same district as defending state champion Lexington. In District VI, Summerville hosts Lugoff-Elgin in the first round.
In Class AA, Academic Magnet is scheduled to host Silver Bluff at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Collins Park, while Bishop England is at Bamberg-Ehrhardt.
The Class AAA baseball and softball playoffs are slated to begin Friday.