Not since the days of former Stratford star Justin Smoak has the Lowcountry seen a display of power-hitting that Summerville sophomore catcher Cole Messina showcased over the last two weeks of the 2019 baseball season.
Smoak, the current Toronto Blue Jay and 2018 all-star, belted 39 home runs over his last three seasons at Stratford, including 18 in his senior season. Nine of those 18 homers came in the state playoffs.
Messina has had a similar streak of homers of late. The 5-11, 215-pound South Carolina commitment recently hit eight home runs in a 10-day span and currently leads the state in homers with nine, which is already more than any player in the Lowcountry has hit in several years.
Since the change in bats to the BBCOR model about seven years ago, home runs in high school have been on the decline. It is not unusual for five home runs to be among the state’s leaders. The state record for homers in a season is 22, set by former first-round draft pick Preston Wilson of Bamberg-Ehrhardt in 1992. Of those 22, seven were grand slams, a national record.
In addition to his home runs, Messina is hitting .395 with 18 RBI and a slugging percentage of 1.132. Three of his bombs came in a key region 8-AAAAA series against Ashley Ridge. Messina says he never goes to the plate trying to hit a home run but more so trying to hit balls hard.
“I just try to let my hands work and hit balls hard,” he said. “Home runs are great but I don’t go up there expecting to hit home runs. I want to do something positive at the plate to help my team win games. For me, wins are the most important thing.”
Some coaches may worry that such early success and instant “fame” might go to a young player’s head. Summerville coach Bo Charpia has no such concerns.
“He works hard every single day, trying to become a better player,” Charpia said. “He’s a pretty mature kid really. He just wants to perform and wants to win. The kid squats over 400 pounds. He works hard to be strong and in shape. He doesn’t take days off. For this team, even as a sophomore, he’s a tremendous leader.”
In an effort to get Messina more at bats and more fastballs to hit, Charpia moved Messina to the leadoff spot in the batting order. The move also enabled Messina to try other ways of getting on base.
“Cole has two bunt base hits,” chuckled Charpia. “You don’t see that often from a home run hitter but that’s Cole doing whatever he can to help his team.”
While his hitting has been a plus, Messina is putting just as much work into his development as a catcher. Though he may eventually end up as a third baseman, Messina is focused on being the best catcher he can be.
“I actually feel like catching is the part of the game where I’ve improved most,” he said. “But I have to work on stuff every day. There’s a lot to being a good catcher.”
David Shelton's ranking of the Lowcountry's Top 25 baseball players:
1. Geoffrey Gilbert – Bishop England, LHP, Sr. (Clemson)
2. Jalen Vasquez – Fort Dorchester, SS, Jr. (South Carolina)
3. Cole Messina – Summerville, C, Soph. (South Carolina)
4. Mac Toman – Hanahan, LHP, Sr. (Flor-Darlington Tech)
5. Travis Lott – Stratford, C, Sr. (The Citadel)
6. Brody Hopkins – Summerville, OF, Jr. (College of Charleston)
7. Aiden Hunter – Hanahan, RHP, Soph. (South Carolina)
8. AC Heaton – Summerville, LHP, Sr. (USC-Aiken)
9. Chris Dengler – Bishop England, IF, Sr. (ODU)
10. Tyler Christmas – Fort Dorchester, IF, Soph.
11. Henry Gibson – Colleton County, C, Sr. (CSU)
12. Dylan Stewart – Stratford, IF, Sr. (CSU)
13. Bobby Alexander – James Island, RHP, Sr. (College of Charleston)
14. Bryce Brown – West Ashley, RHP, Sr. (College of Charleston)
15. Ethan Fewell – Academic Magnet, C/P, Sr. (Winthrop)
16. Noah Panezich – Cane Bay, IF, Sr. (Erskine)
17. Chris Watkins – Ashley Ridge, LHP, Sr. (Coker)
18. Reid Garris – Wando, C/P, Soph.
19. Jared Aden – Wando, IF, Sr. (Flor-Darlington Tech)
20. Jeffrey Ziegler – Berkeley, RHP, Jr.
21. Sean Gould – Fort Dorchester, C, Sr. (Erskine)
22. Blake Marrs – Stratford, 1B, Sr. (Lander)
23. Chase Hadwin – Colleton County, RHP, Sr. (Erskine)
24. John Shelton – Cane Bay, RHP, Sr. (Limestone)
25. Josh Davis – Stratford, RHP, Soph.