MONCKS CORNER -- With six three-year starters on the field, it was Berkeley sophomore Chase Ganey who stole the show in his first playoff start.
Ganey ripped off three hits, including a three-run home run, and drove in six runs as the Stags knocked off visiting St. James, 9-1, in the first round of the Class AAA high school baseball playoffs.
Berkeley, ranked No. 4 in Class AAA, will host Marlboro County, a 2-0 winner over Airport, on Monday night with the winner advancing to the district title game.
Elsewhere on Friday, No. 2 West Ashley and Wando both won to advance to district championship games in Class AAAA. West Ashley defeated West Florence, 5-1, in District VII, and Wando won by 6-3 at Dutch Fork in District VIII.
In Class AA, Bishop England took a 4-2 win at Bamberg-Ehrhardt and will play Academic Magnet at 6 p.m. Saturday at Collins Park.
Class AAA teams Hanahan and James Island both opened the playoffs with road losses, Hanahan by 7-1 at Socastee and James Island by 3-0 at Georgetown.
For Berkeley, Ganey's night included an RBI single in the second inning, a two-run double in the fourth, and a three-run blast to blow the game open in the fifth. The big game came just a few days after a bad practice that drew the ire of head coach Landy Cox.
"He was kicking it around on Monday, making errors and not showing a lot of focus," said Cox. "I told him that he had a lot of seniors really counting on him to play well. This is their last shot and they need Chase to play well, as he has all season.
"He really has been one of our best hitters. He plays on such an even keel. I was never worried about him in terms of folding under the pressure. He's a good baseball player. We just needed to get his focus back a little."
Ganey was part of a big offensive night for the Stags. Berkeley (20-3) pounded out 12 hits, including three by senior catcher Kyle Garrick, who was behind the plate for his 94th career win at Berkeley.
Senior rightfielder Josh Simmons had a pair of doubles and scored three runs while senior leadoff hitter Eric Orton reached base four times, including two hits.
The big offensive night made a winner of starting pitcher Zach Gonzalez, who allowed three hits and an unearned run in five innings, striking out five.
Gonzalez escaped minor trouble in the top of the second, striking out Joey Larkin after back-to-back singles put runners on the corners with two outs.
Berkeley got on the board in the bottom of the frame. Simmons belted a one-out double to right center and scored on Ganey's single to right. The Stags loaded the bases with one out but Sharks pitcher Ty King induced an inning-ending double play grounder to end the threat.
Berkeley added three runs in the fourth, two scoring on Ganey's double. Ganey later scored on a wild pitch for a 4-1 Berkeley advantage.
The decisive inning was the fifth. Garrick doubled home Orton with two outs. Simmons reached on an error that would have ended the inning and Ganey made the Sharks pay with a blast over the 330-foot sign in right.
Senior leftfielder Dylan Baker ended the scoring with a double to left center, scoring senior Connor Teague.
Like any playoff coach, Cox was happy to get the first post-season game out of the way.
"I thought we were a little tight when the game started," he said. "St. James, I thought, was a lot looser. I think it took us a few innings to get settled in. We kicked it around a little defensively but I thought we played pretty well overall."
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