Unsung senior baseball players have major roles

Berkeley pitcher Josh Winningham is 7-1 on the mound with a 0.64 earned run average, and has a .300 batting average with two home runs. (Berkeley Independent)

The Lowcountry is littered with quality high school baseball talent, including several high profile Division I signees who may one day hear their names called in the Major League Baseball draft.

Players like Sawyer Bridges of Summerville (USC signee), Ryan McDonald of West Ashley (West Virginia signee) and Malcolm Van Buren of Hanahan (N.C. State signee) are well-known around the area and state. Summerville, in fact, has six seniors who have signed with colleges.

While having a roster with talented prospects certainly helps when contending for a state championship, many coaches will often say that a big key to winning at a high level is having players that no one knows about. Those “no name” guys usually are not recruited very heavily, yet they produce positive results on a daily basis.

Local high school coaches wave the flag, urging college coaches to take a look at their players. But, the fact remains that many solid players often go overlooked. Parents of serious players spend major money on summer travel baseball, but many end up on the outside looking in when it comes to college opportunities.

The Lowcountry has a host of unsigned seniors who are big-time players for their respective high school programs. Berkeley High School has been one of the area’s top programs over the last several years and the top two players on coach Landy Cox’s roster are unsigned seniors.

Left-handed pitcher Josh Winningham is 7-1 on the mound with a 0.64 earned run average, while also hitting nearly .300 with a pair of home runs.

Third baseman Chase Ganey has been one of the area’s best hitters in each of the last two seasons and this spring is hitting .422 with 10 doubles, 17 RBI and 20 runs scored.

Cox said his prospects do not play a very competitive summer schedule, which could be why they remain unknown in the recruiting circles.

“We have very hard-working kids but they probably need to spend more time in baseball over the summer than they do,” Cox said. “The guys here, they love to hunt and fish and enjoy life, which isn’t a bad thing at all. But in terms of exposure to the colleges, it probably hinders them a little.”

Cox says both Winningham and Ganey are likely headed to USC Sumter in the fall.

Stratford’s roster has eight seniors this season and four have already signed with colleges. The other seniors have been as productive as any players on the team and are still seeking an opportunity.

Third baseman Michael Tarzwell leads the Knights in hitting with a .431 average, a .537 on-base-percentage and 20 runs scored. Tarzwell spent most of his varsity career as a backup but has made the most of his full-time opportunities this spring.

Pitchers Sam Blanton (0.95 ERA) and Austin Chesser (1.68 ERA) have combined for nine wins and two saves this season for the 15-8 Knights. Catcher Asher Smith has caught every inning and is known for his defensive prowess.

James Island center fielder John Thelan is arguably the best defensive outfielder in the area but also sports a .447 batting average with 11 doubles and 16 RBIs. James Island coach Tom Hatley, who just clinched his second straight Region 7-AAAA championship, is left scratching his head as to why Thelan is unknown, though the player has received late interest from Davidson and USC Aiken.

Thelan suffered a broken leg last summer and was unable to participate in travel ball, which he says may have affected his recruiting. He has relied on the efforts of Hatley and James Island assistant Matt Spivey to help in his recruiting.

“It has been a little frustrating but really all I can do is go out and play as well as I can play and hope someone notices me,” said Thelan, who plans to major in engineering. “I love the game of baseball and I can’t imagine not playing, but I’m not sure what else I can do to get myself out there. I feel like it will all work out in the end so I just need to prove myself everyday and help my team win.”

Hanahan has a pair of quality unsigned seniors in catcher Hunter Sutton and pitcher Jon Glee. Sutton is hitting .364 with two homers and seven doubles while throwing out 40 percent of would-be base stealers.

Glee, who transferred from Northwood Academy for his final season, is 5-1 for the Hawks and sports a 1.50 earned run average in 32 innings of work.

West Ashley left-hander Jonah Horton has a 1.69 ERA for the Wildcats and also is an above average outfielder. Fort Dorchester’s Ryan Thomas is a catcher/pitcher that is recovering from knee surgery but is one of the team’s better overall players, according to coach Ronnie Sayer.

The odds are that most, if not all, of these players will earn some sort of opportunity to compete at the next level. For now, they continue to play and hope to get their names on college recruiting lists.

Lowcountry’s unheralded senior baseball stars:

Michael Tarzwell, Stratford, 3B

John Thelan, James Island, OF

Josh Winningham, Berkeley, LHP

Chase Ganey, Berkeley, 3B

Peter Brown, Wando, OF

Austin Chesser, Stratford, RHP

Hunter Sutton, Hanahan, C

Jon Glee, Hanahan, RHP

Ryan Thomas, Fort Dorchester, C

Kyle Long, Fort Dorchester, 3B

Sam Blanton, Stratford, RHP

Edward Bolchoz, Bishop England, LHP

Bailey Brock, Goose Creek, P/SS

Jonah Horton, West Ashley, LHP

Asher Smith, Stratford, C