Brookland-Cayce opens defense of its International Paper Classic baseball tournament championship Thursday at 4:30 p.m. against the host Georgetown Bulldogs. The Bearcats continue play on Friday at 1 p.m. against traditional Class 3A powerhouse Riverside at 1 p.m. and close out pool play Saturday at 4:30 p.m. against Belton-Honea Path. B-C will have one addition game, either on Saturday night or Sunday, depending on its pool finish.
B-C is the only Midlands school in the eight-team field.
The Bearcats kicked off their 30-2, state championship season with a 3-0 run at the IP Classic title a year ago. B-C lost 12 seniors to graduation, including player of the year Adam Westmoreland, but coach Brian Hucks, who sports a 196-77 career record, hopes to contend, the the very least, for another region pennant this spring.
The strength of the 2009 B-C edition is a deep pitching staff led by senior right-handers James Hall and Jeremy Brazzell. Hall, who like Westmoreland did a year ago, enters his senior season with a commitment to the University of South Carolina. Hall went 7-0 with a 2.73 ERA as the No. 2 man in the rotation behind Westmoreland, and also hit .373 with 18 runs scored and 11 RBIs. Brazzell, who has committed to USC-Sumter, was 5-0 with a 3.72 ERA in 26.1 innings of work on the hill last spring. He was the winning pitcher in B-C’s 6-2 win over Hartsville in the 2008 IP Classic championship game.
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Hucks has plenty of other pitching options in senior Alex Nettles, juniors Garrett Williams and Nick Horton and sophomores Michael Gilroy, Chase Shelton and Zack Warner. Nettles, however, is the only one of the group with varsity seasoning. He was 2-0 with two saves out of the bullpen last season with a 3.94 ERA in 16 innings of work.
Hall and senior Matt Martin are the only experience men in field positions. Hall was a regular in right field, while Martin saw action in 13 games at second base and shortstop, but got just 10 at bats.
Otherwise, Horton and Williams will be see time at third base, sophomore Kenyatta Castleberry is the new shortstop, Shelton and Walker will both get action at first base, senior Austin Harris is set as the starting catcher and Hall will be joined in the outfield by junior Foster Stephens in center and either Nettles, Gilroy or senior Ashley Corley. Brazzell will play in right when Hall is on the mound.