High School baseball players hit the fields Monday on the first day teams are allowed to practice. Monday also marks the return of Mike Darnell as the Bishop England baseball coach.
Darnell, who also is the school's director of operations and associate athletic director, is a highly successful baseball coach who replaces another highly successful coach at Bishop England -- Bill Collier. Darnell coached seven seasons at Bishop England in his first stint and compiled a 149-43 record and three state championships, including one in 2007, his final season at BE before moving to Columbia to coach and teach at Cardinal Newman.
Collier coached the baseball team four years and compiled 100 victories and two state championships, including a title last May. He remains at the school and is an assistant basketball coach for the girls team.
Bishop England, the defending Class AA state champion, checks in at No. 4 in the South Carolina Baseball Coaches Association's preseason poll. The Bishops are one of three local teams ranked in the poll. Hanahan is No. 3 in Class AA, and Ashley Ridge is No. 7 in Class AAAA.
Five seniors form the nucleus of the 2012 Bishops baseball team. They are pitcher/infielder Fernando Pinillos, pitcher Shawn Singletary, shortstop/pitcher Ryan Maksim, outfielder/pitcher Alexander Knowlton and pitcher/infielder Patrick Cornely. Cornely's older brother, John, played for Darnell and is now in the Atlanta Braves' organization.
Also back is junior catcher Cameron Garrett, who took over the starting position midway through last season.
"We have a lot of open positions that will be up for grabs this year," Darnell said. "I am looking forward to some good competition for those positions. We are going to have the opportunity for some guys who have not had a ton of playing time to step up."
Hanahan, which lost to the Bishops in the Lower State championship last May, has talent at just about every position, headed up by two-time All-Lowcountry selection Bret Hines. Hines, who plans to play at The Citadel next year, is a middle infielder and pitcher. He batted .428 as a junior with 11 doubles, five homers and 29 RBIs. He was 7-2 as a pitcher with an ERA of 0.80.
Sophomore middle infielder Seth Lancaster has already committed to play for the South Carolina Gamecocks. He batted .302 as a freshman with 27 hits, including three home runs.
Senior pitcher Kyle Dyson will play for Charleston Southern. He was 7-2 with an ERA of 0.84 in 60 innings. Citadel-bound catcher Skylar Hunter has also pitched and could be an effective reliever.
Ashley Ridge has 13 seniors who have been in the program for four years.
"We are hoping to have great senior leadership with guys policing themselves," Swamp Fox coach B.J. Bellush said. "We have high expectations and are happy with the preseason ranking. However, we know there are a lot of good coaches and teams in the Lowcountry, and our schedule is tough."
Ashley Ridge's Lorenzo Wright and Bryan Dye have signed with the College of Charleston, while Austin Livingston signed with The Citadel. Nick Bell signed with Coastal Carolina.
Wright batted .330 with 27 runs and 12 stolen bases last spring. The speedy center fielder had 26 hits and drove in 21 runs.
Dye batted .401 with 33 hits and 30 RBIs. He had seven doubles and two triples.
Livingston batted .371 with 31 hits and 28 RBIs. He also had a big season as a pitcher with an 8-1 record and a 1.45 ERA. He struck out 83 in 58 innings.
Bell, who is a catcher, batted .300 and threw out 45 percent of the runners who attempted to steal on him.
Byrnes is No. 1 in Class AAAA, and A.C. Flora heads up the Class AAA poll. Gilbert is the top team in Class AA, and Chesterfield is No. 1 in Class A.
Roland Hakes of Dutch Fork has been named the Gatorade South Carolina Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year for the second straight year.
The 5-10 senior finished with his second consecutive Class AAAA individual state title in November with a time of 15 minutes and 10 seconds, leading the Silver Foxes to a fourth-place team finish.
Hakes won the Run Wild Festival, the SCTCCA Coaches Classic, the Region 7-AAAA meet and Class AAAA Lower State championships, and was named Runner of the Year as named by SCRunners.com.
Hakes also shines in track and field and has maintained a 3.63 GPA in the classroom.
Follow Phil Bowman on Twitter at @pandcphil.