High School Sports

Preview: 4A baseball playoffs

Newly crowned Region 5-4A baseball champion Lexington was rewarded with a Top 10 berth in the final SCBCA Class 4A poll of the season. The Wildcats, however, are more interested in keeping their late-season surge going in the playoffs.

Tommy Mishoe’s team reversed an alarming downward trend by winning its final three regular-season games last week – nailing down the 5-4A pennant by defeating contenders Dutch Fork, North Augusta and White Knoll.

“I told the guys before the week start that it was all up to them, and they took charge of things,” said Mishoe. “To be honest, I didn’t know how they were going to react to the challenge, but they sure did respond. It was the best week we’ve had all season. The guys knew what was at stake, and they made it happen.”

Lexington (13-11) hosts cross-dam rival Irmo (10-9) in an all-local first-round District V clash tonight. Seven other Midlands qualifiers also begin postseason play tonight. Fifth-ranked Sumter hosts Berkeley in District VI, Ridge View (15-8) hosts Nation Ford in District II, Spring Valley plays at Gaffney in District I, Blythewood hits the road to play Region 3-4A champion Northwestern in District III, Dutch Fork is at Summerville in District VII and White Knoll has a long drive to Beaufort to face the Region 8-4A champion Eagles.

Lexington finished the regular season with a respectable .303 team batting average and a 3.24 team ERA. Chris Harper (.368 batting average, 1.002 OPS, 16 runs, 15 RBIs), Matthew Van Laan (.352, 14 runs, 13 RBIs, 3 HR), John McInnis (.303, 17 runs, 19 RBIs) and Charlton Herpst (.390, 16 runs, 13 RBIs) have been the top offensive producers. Alex Brooks (4-3, 2.04 ERA, 52 strikeouts), Derrick Smith (3-2, 1.85 ERA, 41 whiffs) and Kyle Turner (2-2, 2.47 ERA) form the foundation of the pitching staff.

Irmo hopes to finally get the bats going against the Wildcats in the third meeting of the teams. Lexington blanked the Yellow Jackets 4-0 and 1-0 in the two region confrontations. Smith out-dueled Irmo ace Tony Ford in the 1-0 gem on April 17. The Jackets, who sport a .314 team batting average, hope to turn things around in the third clash with the ‘Cats. Dillon Graves (.442, 20 runs, 11 RBIs) and Lance Hayes (.405, 16 RBIs in just 13 games) pace a balanced Yellow Jackets attack. Ford (4-4, 2.27 ERA, 45 strikeouts) and Hayes (3-2, 1 save, 3.10 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 20 innings) are the top Irmo hurlers.

Ridge View finished in a first-place tie with Rock Hill in Region 4-4A, but was relegated to a No. 2 seed by the tie-breaking format in place. The Blazers, who enter the playoffs riding a five-game winning streak, have received solid pitching from Richard Crisostomo and Scotty Baldwin this season. Crisostomo is 4-1 with four saves and sports a 1.09 ERA. Baldwin is 3-1 with two saves and a 1.55 ERA in 40 innings of work. RV has been a bit inconsistent offensively, but Hughston Armstrong (.422, 17 runs) has been steady and very good. Catcher Julio Iglesias leads the team with 14 RBIs.

Sumter (18-6) won the Region 6-4A championship after entering the season with an untested pitching staff due to injuries and inexperience. The newcomers have done just fine, and the Gamecocks suddenly have enviable depth. The key men have been sophomores Jeremy Buckner (4-1, 2.45 ERA) and Josh Kisamore (4-2, 3.20 ERA) and Bruce Caldwell (4-1, 2.20 ERA). Caldwell, the starting shortstop, was forced to the mound in the wake of early-season health issues to projected top-of-the-rotation men Tyler Smith and Jordan Montgomery, who are now very much in the mix. Smith is 0-1 with five saves and a 0.93 ERA in his new relief role, while lefty Montgomery is 4-0 with a 0.63 ERA. Sumter boasts an impressive 2.23 team ERA.

Dutch Fork (12-12) will probably start ace Chad Balderman (4-3, 1.93 ERA, 51 strikeouts) against No. 2 seed Summerville, and hope the bats come alive. The Silver Foxes have just 100 runs on the books (4.2 per game) and a tepid .277 team batting average. Offensive leaders Ryan McPhail (.339, 16 RBIs), Tyler Martin (.333, 13 RBIs) and Balderman (.275, 19 runs, 10 steals) need some help.

White Knoll (17-6) fell out of contention for the 5-4A pennant and ended up as the No. 4 seed after going 2-2 in the final week of the region campaign. Statistically, the Timberwolves are fine, sporting a team 2.72 ERA and a .342 team batting average with 190 runs scored, but something has been missing. Still, WK has the potential to make some playoff noise, despite its seeding position.

White Knoll has plenty of offensive contributors – Hunter Counts (.373, 15 runs), Matt Tanner (.368, 23 runs, 20 RBIs), Josh Shealy (.362, 16 runs, 24 RBIs), Chris Harrison (.308, 22 runs), Zack Smith (.342, 16 runs, 24 RBIs), Robbie Streett (.277, 28 runs), Corey Holmes (.368, 16 runs, 11 RBIs) and Austin Dunn (.328, 15 RBIs). Harrison (4-2, 3.04 ERA), Taylor Britain (4-2, 2.19 ERA) and Eric Allen (5-1, 3.64 ERA) are the mainstays of the pitching staff.

Spring Valley and Blythewood tied for third place in the Region 4-4A race, but the Vikings got the tie-breaking nod as the No. 3 seed. SV will probably send senior Jake Zokan to the hill in the playoff opener.

Blythwood (15-9) will have to choose between Michael Hanzlik, Taylor Bone or Will Smith for its Game 1 starter tonight in Rock Hill against Region 3-4A champion Northwestern. And it would help the Bengals chances if the offense picks it up. Blythewood sports a low .259 team batting average. There has been no consistent lineup support for leaders Grayson Greiner and Daniel Andreu.