Top 10 teams Airport, Chapin, Brookland-Cayce and Lugoff-Elgin headline an impressive Midlands contingent in the Class 3A state baseball playoffs that begin on Thursday.
No. 4 Airport and No. 7 Chapin enter as region champions, while No. 3 B-C and No. 5 L-E also rate first-round home games as No. 2 region seeds. The rest of the area entries include traditional power A.C. Flora, defending Lower State champion Camden and Dreher,
Airport (21-4) enters the playoffs as a No. 1 seed for the first time since the statewide shift to a district format in the early 2000s. The Eagles rebounded from an early region loss to Swansea to run the table, sweeping archrival Brookland-Cayce and finishing with a 9-1 grade in Region 5.
John Johnson’s team has plenty of offense from the likes of Lucas Knight, Stuart Pound, Zach Hawley, Ryan Sturkie, WT Murden, Derek Cushman and Jordan Williams. Murden is the workhorse of the pitching staff. The senior right-hander beat B-C in both region showdowns.
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The Eagles haven’t had a good playoff run since 2005 when they rallied to beat Chapin for a district championship and advance to the Lower State tournament for the first time.
Airport hosts Wilson in the District V opener.
Chapin ended up sharing the Region 4 championship with Lugoff-Elgin, but rated the No. 1 seed with an edge in the second tiebreaker.
The Eagles (17-5) have nine state titles on the books – a total second only to Bamberg-Ehrhardt. The three most recent runs to glory (1996, 2001, 2002) have come under the guidance of Scott McLeod. Chapin, however, has never made it past the district phase of the playoffs since moving up to 3A in 2005.
Chapin made offensive improvement the focus in the off-season, and the results have been pleasing. The Eagles are hitting .377 as a team and averaging 7.1 runs a game.
Will Clary (.471, 22 runs, 15 RBIs), Alex Kirby (.419, 15 runs, 18 RBIs), D.J. Roberts (.319, 10 runs, 12 RBIs, 3 HR), Jesse Morris (.407, 15 runs, 10 RBIs), Cole Morris (.389, 20 runs) and Brian Langlois (.393, 19 runs, 20 RBIs) are the top producers.
Jesse Morris (7-0, 1.00 ERA, 40 Ks) and Taylor Alvarez (5-3, 1.99 ERA, 48 Ks) are the pitching mainstays.
Chapin opens District IV action at home against Union County.
Brookland-Cayce (20-5) has high postseason expectations again. And why not? The Bearcats, after all, have failed to make it to the Elite Eight level of the playoffs only once since 3A adopted the district format in 2000. B-C has claimed two state titles (2000 and 2008) under coach Brian Hucks.
Stellar pitching is the B-C trademark under Hucks, and 2010 is no different. Left-handers Michael Gilroy (5-3, 1.03 ERA, 65 Ks) and Chase Shelton (7-0, 1.46 ERA, 40 Ks) are the aces of the staff. Tanner Petrey (4-0, 1.67 ERA) and John Long (4-2, 2 saves, 3.32 ERA) are solid options.
Offensively, Shelton (.447, 26 runs, 25 RBIs, 6 HR), Petrey (.423, 16 runs, 22 RBIs), Zack Warner (.395, 26 runs, 14 RBIs), Kenyata Castleberry (.386, 24 runs, 11 RBIs) and Addison Delk (.257, 15 runs, 15 RBIs) are the leaders.
The Bearcats debut in District VI play against Darlington.
Lugoff-Elgin (19-4) is looking end five years of district disappoint this season. The Demons haven’t advanced to the Elite Eight since 2004.
L-E is looking for big things from USC-bound Forrest Koumas, who is enjoying a sensational senior season. Koumas is 6-0 with a 2.61 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 48.1 inning on the mound, and is hitting .486 with 13 home runs and 40 RBIs.
The key to success will be the pitching when Koumas is in the field. Will Dorton (6-1, 1 save, 1.49 ERA), Matt Cook, Nick Mincey and E.J. Ruiz will have to step up.
Jacob Murphy (.328, 12 steals), Ty Robinson (.416, 21 RBIs), Blake Outlaw (.426, 12 RBIs), Cook (.375, 23 RBIs), Mincey (.368) and Steven Boneparte (.405, 12 RBIs) provided Koumas with ample support in the batting order.
The Demons launch District III play at home against Clinton.
Camden closed an up-and-down regular season with an overall 11-12 record, and lost the Region 6 championship to Marlboro County last week. The Bulldogs, however, caught fire in the playoffs under similar circumstances last season and believe a repeat is possible.
Offensively, Camden has some pop in the order with Alvonta’ Jenkins (.409, 23 runs, 18 RBIs, 3 HR), Brandon Kersey (.357, 11 runs, 14 RBIs), DaVante’ Hayes (.326, 16 runs, 11 RBIs) and Andrew Ansley (.340, 15 runs, 12 RBIs) in the forefront.
But the pitching will tell the tale for the Bulldogs. Kris Nelson (5-4, 1.91 ERA) has been the only consistent hurler this spring.
Camden has a tough first-round District V opener at home against South Aiken, a team with solid pitching that was ranked No. 1 early in the season. The Thoroughbreds finished third in Region 5 behind Airport and B-C.
A.C. Flora will try something new this spring. The Falcons, by way of a third-place finish in Region 4, will open the playoffs on the road for the first time in at least 10 years. ACF has a long trip to face Blue Ridge in the District IV opener.
Dreher (9-14) hopes to pull off a playoff surprise or two after losing seven of its last eight regular season games. The Blue Devils hit the road for Bennettsville and a date with Region 6 champion Marlboro County.
Chandler Knox (.400) and Alex Shaw (.417, 4-3, 3.59 ERA) are the Dreher leaders.