A.C. Flora’s grip on Class 3A baseball in South Carolina is expected to remain steadfast for at least one more season.
With 12 veterans players – six regulars and six pitchers – in tow, the Falcons are heavily favored to claim their third consecutive state title and the fifth under coach Andy Hallett, who has compiled a 353-136 record in 16 seasons on the job. The Falcons went 26-6 during last spring’s title run.
The veteran core features five-year starter Donald Gillespie and three-year regulars Madison Stokes, Everett Eynon and Connor Desmond.
Gillespie, has started at catcher, third base and shortstop in his four seasons in the varsity lineup. He returns to third base this season – the position he handled as an eighth-grader. Gillesie batted .333 with 23 runs scored a year ago, and led the team in home runs (6) and RBI (39).
Shortstop Stokes and second baseman Eynon are going as a package deal to South Carolina. Stokes put up big numbers last season, leading the team in batting average (.460), hits (17), total bases (79) and slugging percentage (.699). He scored 27 runs, drove in 31 and was 11-for-11 in steals. Eynon hit .387 with 33 runs, 15 RBI and was 23-for-23 in steals.
Desmond, who is committed to College of Charleston, is back in center field after batting .344 with 20 runs, 16 RBI and 10 steals a year ago.
Austin Beskid and Sam Anderson are the other returning regulars. Beskid moves from the outfield to first base. The Citadel-bound senior batted .400 with 32 runs, 25 RBI and 15 swipes a season ago. Anderson started 17 games behind the plate in 2013 and will likely share duties with promising sophomore Josh Hernandez.
The two corner outfield spots are up in the air, but freshman Coleman Pope is making a strong bid to start in left field.
Staff ace Matt Wallace is gone, but the Falcons figure to to strong and deep on the bump once more. Alexander Jenkins (6-0, 4.23 ERA), Banks Cromer, another Falcon off to South Carolina, and newcomer David Metts, a junior left-hander, are the top starters.
The real strength of the staff is a solid bullpen featuring veterans Mills Carlton, Wills Chapman, Beskid and Gillespie.
The Falcons open the season at the IP Classic in Georgetown (March 6-9). Flora claimed the prestigious tournament title last season.