Now in his 46th season as a high school coach, Oceanside Collegiate baseball mentor Jerry Stoots admits he is having as much fun this season as he’s ever had in coaching.
A big reason for Stoots’ happiness is the fact that his 2019 Landsharks are pretty darn good. The Landsharks won the Class AA Lower State championship on Wednesday night, leaving no doubt in a 13-0 five-inning pasting of Gray Collegiate out of Columbia.
Oceanside improved to 25-7 overall, out-scoring six playoff opponents, 43-6. The Landsharks will play a best-of-three state championship series against the Upper State champion, either Landrum or Andrew Jackson. The series begins on Saturday at the Upper State champion home field. It will be Oceanside’s first road game of the playoffs.
“We have been playing our best baseball here in the playoffs and I couldn’t ask for any more from them,” Stoots said. “This is one of the highlights of my career. Starting out with this group two years ago as freshmen and sophomores and seeing them grow, it’s been a real pleasure. I have thoroughly enjoyed the ride with them.”
Stoots is no stranger to championship level baseball. He guided Stall High to a AAA state championship in 1985. He later led Northwood Academy to five consecutive state championship series but came up short each time. Now, he has a seventh opportunity, with a third different team, to win it all again.
“To win the state championship, it would the cherry on top of the sundae,” said Stoots, who has more than 900 career victories as a head coach. “I hope these kids can drag me across the finish line with them.”
In Wednesday’s victory, junior right-hander Cooper Gaskins did not allow a hit in five innings, walking two. Stoots decided on Gaskins after considering other options and the decision paid off.
“He stepped up, did a great job,” Stoots said of Gaskins. “You throw a no-hitter in a big game like this, can’t ask for anything more.”
The Landsharks tallied 12 hits in the win, getting three consecutive doubles in the first inning for a quick 3-0 lead. They added six runs in the second, sending 11 hitters to the plate with five more hits. A 9-0 lead after two allowed Gaskins to relax and settle in.
“I appreciate coach Stoots having confidence in me and the guys backed me up with the runs early, that was big,” Gaskins said. “I just wanted to throw strikes and keep us going. It feels really good to be able to contribute with my teammates. This was amazing.”
The Landsharks added four runs in the bottom of the fourth and started to feel the celebration. Jack Mahony had three RBI while Gray Sobel, Brandon Schultz and Aiden Pourmoghadam each tallied two RBI in the balanced attack.
In other playoff action, the Ashley Ridge softball team advanced to the class AAAAA Lower State finals with a 7-1 road win at South Florence. The Swamp Foxes will travel to Lexington on Friday for a chance to win the Lower State championship but will need two wins to advance to the state finals next week.
In SCISA playoff soccer, the Pinewood Prep boys team saw its season end with a semi-final loss to Hammond, 3-0.
On Thursday, the Pinewood Prep girls team will host Cardinal Newman in one of the AAA semi-final contests. Porter-Gaud, the defending state champion, will play at Hammond in the other semi-final.