HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL PREVIEW: 10 STORY LINES

March 12, 2014 

Ryan Brown hopes to lead a new-look Lexington squad to another Class 4A championship.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

  • PRESEASON POLLS

    CLASS 4A

    1. Sumter

    2. Blythewood

    3. Lexington

    4. Dorman

    5. Mauldin

    6. West Ashley

    7. South Aiken

    8. Summerville

    9. Northwestern

    T10. Wade Hampton

    T10. Nation Ford

    CLASS 3A

    1. A.C. Flora

    2. Greenville

    3. Wren

    4. Belton-Honea Path

    5. Airport

    6. Socastee

    7. Emerald

    8. Berkeley

    9. James Island

    T10. Chester

    T10. Blue Ridge

    CLASS 2A

    1. Bishop England

    2. Chesnee

    3. Liberty

    4. Mid-Carolina

    5. Loris

    6. Waccamaw

    7. Dillon

    8. Ninety-Six

    9. Aynor

    T10. Chesterfield

    T10. Pelion

    CLASS A

    1. St. Joseph’s

    2. Latta

    3. Fox Creek

    4. Lewisville

    5. Lake View

    6. Dixie

    7. Southside Christian

    8. East Clarendon

    9. Johnsonville

    T10. McBee

    T10. Lamar

BLYTHEWOOD HASN’T LOWERED EXPECTATIONS

Blythewood is coming off a 27-7 record, a Region 4-4A pennant, District 4 and Upper State postseason titles and a runner-up finish to Lexington in the state championship game. The Bengals are facing a rebuilding task. Tyler Romanik, Aaron Dahm and Connor Grant are the only returning regulars, but coach Barry Mizzell still is aiming high.

BROWN LEADS REBUILDING LEXINGTON

Lexington claimed the 4A state title and earned a top 10 national ranking this past season. Replacing 11 seniors who’ve moved on to play collegiately or professionally won’t be easy. The lineup will be built around Ryan Brown, who hit .463 this past season and is one of the best center fielders in the nation.

WILLIAMS, SPIRES LEAD GILBERT

Gilbert plans to challenge Airport for the Region 5-3A crown after finishing one game back a year ago. Division I-bound seniors Jared Williams (South Carolina) and Mitch Spires (Winthrop) lead the team. Shortstop Williams hit .425 with 29 runs scored, 13 RBIs and 26 steals last season. Third baseman Spires batted .286 with 13 runs, a team-high 21 RBIs and 10 steals.

CAN FLORA THREE-PEAT?

After winning back-to-back 3A state championships, A.C. Flora opened the 2014 season with four straight wins and captured the International Paper Classic in Georgetown. Flora beat Summerville 5-2 in the title game. The Falcons are looking to make it three in a row.

CAN B-C FIND STABILITY?

Shawn Torbett faces an interesting challenge as the new coach at Brookland-Cayce: he is the third coach in three seasons. Torbett, a native of West Virginia, has two seasons of head coaching experience in Ohio and has been a valued assistant at three different top-flight programs – Lexington, Gilbert and Blythewood – in the Midlands.

YOUTH MOVEMENT AT IRMO

Irmo’s youth movement continues this spring, but veteran coach Ray Canady hopes the bottom line will be more rewarding than last season’s 3-16 record. “We could start as many as five sophomores and one freshman,” Canady said. Sophomores Grant Robertson and Nick Leslie and freshman Nolan Burdette are promising newcomers.

CAN HAMMOND REPEAT?

Hammond broke a 14-year title drought last spring, winning its first SCISA Class 3A baseball championship since 1999. But with graduation exacting a heavy toll, the Skyhawks will have a lot of new faces. James Shepherd, Tyler Lanham, Thomas Middleton and Harrison McGee are newcomers to watch.

RIVER BLUFF PLAYING FIRST SEASON

River Bluff makes its varsity debut on Wednesday at home against Irmo. The Gators are coached by Mark Bonnette, who spent the past 11 seasons as the pitching coach at White Knoll. Bonnette was a football and baseball star at Airport High. He served as the coach for two seasons at Silver Bluff before moving to White Knoll.

LUGOFF-ELGIN AIMS FOR TITLE

Lugoff-Elgin has 10 regulars returning off a team that finished strong in 2013, including a run to the finals of the district playoffs. Junior shortstop Russ Radcliff (.338, 3 HRs, 16 RBIs), junior first baseman Gunner Smith (.332) and senior second baseman Cody Maily (.319) are the top offensive producers back.

PELION HAS VETERAN TEAM

Pelion returns all but two starters. The key men are Tyler Poole, Zach Hawkins and Dominick Holderness who are the core of the pitching staff and regulars in the field when not pitching. Poole and Hawkins lead the top of the rotation.

John Devlin

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