BY DAVID SHELTON
Special to The Post and Courier
The Lowcountry has a handful of high school baseball teams capable of competing for lower state championships in their respective classifications, but it remains to be seen if any of them are at the championship-caliber level.
With preseason scrimmages and tournaments out of the way, the regular season is in full swing this week as most teams begin region play right off the bat. So, here’s how I see it shaking out in Week 1 of the regular season.
1. James Island — Easily one of the best-coached teams in the area with Tom Hatley at the helm, the Trojans are usually very good in the fundamentals of the game. Starting pitchers Jackson White (Jr.) and Vince Bodison (So.) are quality underclassmen arms while centerfielder Bo Owens and shortstop Parker Bass anchor a solid defense.
2. Summerville — The Green Wave have sputtered a bit out of the gate but that’s not unexpected with a number of new starters for coach Banks Faulkner. Summerville is strong up the middle with catcher Jack Bahen (Presbyterian), shortstop Brock Tobin (Florence-Darlington) and second baseman Bo Gobin (The Citadel). Starting pitchers Sawyer Bridges (USC), Wilson Beattie (USC) and Gobin anchor a deep pitching staff. As Faulkner says, this team will be better in late April than they are in early March.
3. Ashley Ridge — With starting pitchers Josh Church, a junior, and senior Gabe Austin (CofC), the Swamp Foxes will be very competitive. Third baseman Aaron Miller (CSU) and centerfielder Hunter Grover (Presbyterian) are solid offensive players, along with Church and Austin. If the Swamp Foxes can get offensive production throughout the order, they will be challenge Summerville in region 8-AAAA.
4. Berkeley — Coach Landy Cox has a few questions about this year’s team but starting southpaw Josh Winningham and leading hitter Chase Ganey are not two of those questions. The Stags need a few arms to step up if they are to make a fourth consecutive run at the Region 8-AAA title. Berkeley will play hard and will execute the fundamentals like no other team in the area.
5. Hanahan — Number one starter Malcolm Van Buren (N.C. State) anchors a solid core of arms, along with CSU commitment Parker Futrell. The Hawks will be in most games due to pitching and if the hitting comes together, they will challenge Berkeley and Hilton Head for the Region 8-AAA title.
6. West Ashley — Hard-throwing right-hander Ryan McDonald (West Virginia) and lefty Jonah Horton will give the Wildcats a chance to win. West Ashley must find consistency in the offensive lineup and will need a few arms to back up the top two.
7. Wando — The defending Class AAAA state champion lost 12 seniors and has a host of new faces in the lineup this season, but this is Wando. The Warriors will compete and could be a region title contender. Sophomore catcher Davis Wilber is one of the state’s best underclassmen and outfielder Peter Brown is one of the area’s top senior players.
8. Stratford — The Knights have a solid core group of seniors, led by pitchers Justin Walker and Jacob Morrison (Savannah State), and infielders J.D. Davis (The Citadel) and Michael White. Stratford relies heavily on the senior leadership and those seniors should be enough to earn a berth in the AAAA playoffs.
9. Pinewood Prep — The Panthers are the top SCISA team in the area, led by hard-throwing right-hander Kris Kuhn (CofC). Pinewood could play deep into the AAA playoffs if they can hit enough to support solid pitching.
10. (tie) Cane Bay — Three solid starting pitchers – senior Kayleb Ferrell, junior John Sendziak and sophomore lefty Dylan Harley – will give the Cobras a chance to compete. Scoring runs and losing close games was an issue last season but senior catcher Cam Rozal, senior third baseman Jacob Judy and sophomore shortstop Trey Thacker hope to change those fortunes this spring.
10. (tie) Bishop England — Expect Bishop England to contend in Class AA. Coach Mike Darnell plays easily the toughest non-region schedule in the area with the likes of James Island, Wando, Hanahan, Berkeley and Ashley Ridge. The overall record may not be great but the schedule will make this team a contender in AA come late April.