After this summer, maybe the state of South Carolina should change its nickname from the Palmetto State to the Baseball State. It seems appropriate after South Carolina teams experienced unprecedented success on a national level.
No team from South Carolina had won the American Legion World Series since 1936 before Chapin-Newberry accomplished the feat in mid-August, and no team from the state had reached the Little League World Series in 65 years until Northwood Little League out of Taylors did so by dominating the Southeast Regional.
In addition, the Hartsville Northern Majors team won the Dixie Youth World Series in record-breaking fashion, outscoring its opponents 98-7 in six games and hitting 30 home runs in the tournament.
It all added up to a remarkable summer of baseball in the state of South Carolina.
“It was really, really neat for our state,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “Those kids on those respective teams really made a lot of people that are involved in baseball in this state proud with the way they played, the way they competed, the way they represented our state. It was certainly a great summer for amateur baseball in the state of South Carolina.”
Holbrook said baseball in South Carolina, from Little League up, is as good as anywhere in the country.
“When you look at the talent in this state, our best players are as good as anybody’s,” he said. “What makes it so special is we’re going up against states that have a lot bigger population than what we have. I think that speaks even more volumes to what these kids have accomplished on the fields.”
Clemson coach Monte Lee, who was born in Spartanburg, raised in Lugoff and has coached in South Carolina throughout his coaching career, said he has always focused on recruiting in-state players.
While Lee can’t comment on particular players, he kept up with baseball in the state this summer. Chapin-Newberry ace Ryne Huggins is already committed to pitch at Clemson, and although the Northwood and Hartsville players are still a couple of years away from being recruited, Lee and Holbrook did take mental notes.
“If you look at my recruiting philosophy, I’ve always recruited the state of South Carolina very hard,” Lee said. “I wouldn’t say you want to recruit kids that are in middle school, I don’t think that’s good, but you tend to make a mental note that that kid’s a really good player and it’ll be interesting to watch him develop and progress as he gets into high school.”
Holbrook said Cincinnati Reds all-star third-baseman Todd Frazier first came on to his radar after excelling at the Little League World Series.
Frazier, who grew up in New Jersey, starred for the 1998 New Jersey team that won the Little League World Series, earning the win as the pitcher in the championship game while going 4-for-4, including a home run.
“Anytime you watch 12, 13 year old kids that are really, really, really good and you’re a coach and coach college baseball you always make a mental note,” Holbrook said. “I remember I recruited Todd Frazier when I was at North Carolina because I remembered how vivid my memory was of his experience and his accomplishments at the Little League World Series. Now, obviously, Todd’s a major league all star.”
While there is no guarantee that any of the players on these three teams will go on to play professional baseball, there are at least a few guys that might have a shot.
Justin Hawkins of Chapin-Newberry was named the American Legion National Player of the Year after hitting .395 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs. Hawkins is entering his sophomore season at USC Sumter and will be eligible for the draft after this season.
Chapin-Newberry coach Daniel Gregory said several players from his team, including Hawkins, have a chance to play college baseball at a high level or perhaps professional baseball in the future.
“I saw some kids grow up over the summer as baseball players and learn about themselves, earn college scholarships and earn future accolades and probably some professional money at some point,” Gregory said. “(Justin) doesn’t know exactly what his future holds after next spring. If he has a good spring at USC Sumter he has a chance to get drafted. I’m hoping the bigger schools in South Carolina will offer if he decides to go to college and it works out that way.”
Alex Edmondson of Northwood was as dominant as any player at the Little League World Series, hitting .556 with two home runs and six RBIs in three games despite being pitched around. He threw back-to-back no-hitters in the Southeast Regional Championship and the first game of the Little League World Series. The Northwood team also featured Terrence Gist, who hit a home run that traveled an estimated 380 feet.
From Hartsville Northern, Jenk McCullum and Owen Taylor each hit better than .680 and each finished with five homers and 10 RBIs in six games at the Dixie Youth World Series.
“There have been so many major leaguers participate in the Little League World Series, as we all know,” Holbrook said. “When you see someone stand out at that age I don’t think there’s a baseball coach in the country that wouldn’t take a mental note of a great accomplishment on the baseball field, regardless of the age.”
One thing Chapin-Newberry, Northwood and Hartsville Northern have in common is all of their players are from the area where their teams are based.
While travel baseball teams are becoming more and more popular, Lee said there is something special about watching players from their local community compete and have success on a big stage.
“The model today is not that way. The model today is kids from all over the place get together on the weekends and play baseball games,” Lee said. “I think that when you’re playing for your community and you grow up with the kids and you stick together playing with your community, I think it means a whole lot more to you as a player. I think you tend to compete a lot harder because you’re playing for more than just yourself… It’s great to see kids play for their community because it’s not all that common anymore.”
Stars of tomorrow?
Three players to watch from each team:
HARTSVILLE NORTHERN MAJORS
Jenk McCullum: Was named the World Series batting champ after hitting .684 with five home runs and 10 RBIs in six games. He struck out 12 and walked two without allowing a run on the mound.
Owen Taylor: Started three games and went 3-0 with a 0.85 ERA. At the plate, hit .682 with five homers four doubles and 10 RBIs.
Tyler Lawhon: Homered in four of his 12 at bats and finished with 10 RBIs. On the mound, struck out 14 in seven innings pitched, going 1-0 with a 0.85 ERA.
NORTHWOOD LITTLE LEAGUE (TAYLORS)
Alex Edmondson: One of the stars of the Little League World Series, Edmondson hit .556 with two home runs and six RBIs in three games. He also excelled on the mound, throwing a no-hitter in the only game he pitched. In addition to his no-hitter in the LLWS, Edmondson pitched a no-hitter in the Southeast Regional Championship to get Northwood to Williamsport.
Terrence Gist: Hit only .200 in the Little League World Series but showed off his power with a home run in Northwood’s opener that traveled an estimated 380 feet. He also struck out 10 in 61/3 innings and finished with a 3.789 ERA.
Braden Golinski: In two elimination games, Golinski combined to go 4-for-5 with a homer, two runs and two RBIs. He also fielded 1.000 at the LLWS.
CHAPIN-NEWBERRY POST 193/24
Ryne Huggins: The Clemson commit and ace of the staff finished the year 6-0 with a 2.17 ERA. He struck out 69 and walked only seven in 66 1/3 innings.
Justin Hawkins: Named the American Legion National Player of the Year after hitting .395 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs. Hawkins, who plays at USC Sumter, was also named the American Legion World Series MVP.
Ryan Stoudemire: The Charleston Southern commit touched 90 MPH with his fastball and went 2-0 with a save and a 3.94 ERA. At the plate he hit .301 with seven doubles, two homers and 28 RBIs.