It's hard to pinpoint the epicenter in this quake of Lowcountry baseball success at the highest level of high school competition.

Somewhere in the brackish water on James Island?

The Stratford High School trophy case?

Nick Ciuffo's equipment bag?

The Summerville High School weight room?

The stars have aligned.

The role players, too.

The James Island Trojans, Stratford Knights and Wando Warriors are in the driver's seat -- and the Region 8-AAAA champion Summerville Green Wave remains alive -- in the four districts that make up the Class AAAA Lower State playoffs.

Wando, Stratford and James Island with home wins tonight will advance to the Lower State final four.

The stacked deck creates opportunity, and entertaining baseball well worth the cost of admission and a burger grilled by a third baseman's parent.

Factors include:

Mutual respect

--Wando head coach Banks Faulkner on Stratford, 15-4 and the last Lowcountry program to win a Class AAAA state title (2005): "They're really talented; I like their lineup a lot. They pose some matchup problems for people because they have guys who can swing it both ways. (Bobby) Ison gives you a table-setter at the top. We intentionally walked (Chase) Tidwell the last at-bat of our last game against them; he was wearing us out."

--James Island head coach Tom Hatley on Wando, 17-10 and sizzling: "Wando is playing great baseball right now. Coach Faulkner has done a great job of getting them to play together right here at the end of the season. They had to learn each other and now that adjustment period is over with."

--Stratford head coach John Chalus on James Island, 25-3 and Region 7-AAAA champs: "A very good team. They're not going to make a mistake. And if you make a mistake, they're going to capitalize like a shark in water smelling blood. We have four losses so far this year, and three are to them."


The great baseball state of South Carolina has had 10 -- count 'em 10 -- different Class AAAA champions in the last 10 years. Not including typically powerful programs North Augusta, Wando and Conway.

"That shows you it's not just about having great players," Chalus said. "It's the other players. What has happened is the average guy has gotten a lot better."

Roll call:

2001 -- Richland Northeast

2002 -- Fort Mill

2003 -- Summerville

2004 -- Mauldin

2005 -- Stratford

2006 -- Sumter

2007 -- Hartsville

2008 -- Boiling Springs

2009 -- Gaffney

2010 -- White Knoll

"It just says you have some really good programs across the state," Faulkner said. "There are a lot of good coaches and a lot of good assistant coaches, too. Everybody is working hard and everybody has good players."

Classy underclassmen

Ciuffo, Wando's sophomore catcher and Team USA candidate, already has committed to College World Series champion South Carolina, and there are more college prospects behind him. James Island has six sophomores among its 18 varsity players. Stratford and Summerville have deep talent pools.


The Tulsa, Okla., metro area and Orange County, Calif., have two teams apiece among the top eight in Baseball America's current high school rankings.

No South Carolina teams in the top 25.

Yeah, but former Stratford teammates Matt Wieters and Justin Smoak are starting in the majors, Hatley won two Class AAA state titles before James Island jumped up to Class AAAA. Former Wando slugger Daniel Aldrich of the College of Charleston is the favorite to win Baseball America's college freshman of the year award. Former Summerville pitcher Steven Jackson pitched in the big leagues each of the last two seasons.

Other schools

It's not just Class AAAA. Cane Bay, Hanahan, Bishop England, Pinewood Prep, Northwood Academy, Dorchester Academy, First Baptist and Coastal Christian are among Lowcountry programs that also have had nice seasons.

Advance techniques

But it's best to stop admiring, and always avoid looking too far ahead.

Just look at tonight, with 25-3 James Island playing host to a South Aiken team it has defeated twice this season.

"South Aiken is the best hitting team I've seen in 20 years," Hatley said. "I'm not kidding. They grip it and rip it, one through nine in the order. We are 2-0 against them, but they have scored 20 runs in those games. We were down 10-2 against them Saturday and won, 14-11. We have to be ready."

Reach Gene Sapakoff at

or 937-5593.