New season brings new obstacles for area baseball programs
A team that has a roster filled two-thirds with seniors and 93 percent of upperclassmen usually doesn’t have much to figure out. Bishop England doesn’t have that luxury, according to coach Mike Darnell.
“We are not young,” he said, “but very inexperienced, as far as games go. We are going to have to figure out the best lineups offensively and defensively throughout the year. If we can get the right people in the right places, then hopefully we can be on the teams playing at the end of the season.”
The Battling Bishops are ranked preason No. 1 in 2A, but Darnell doesn’t pay much attention to that. “I don’t think any of us ever feel pressure being No. 1,” he said. “We all know that the preseason ranking doesn’t mean much, other than you finished high the previous year.
“We have established ourselves as a very good program, so we feel pressure to carry on the BE tradition every year.”
Bishop England lost to Hanahan in the Lower State finals to cap a 19-12 season. It was a learning experience.
“You always learn more from losing than you do winning,” Darnell said. “I think, as a coaching staff, we learned that our guys need to be better at finishing. We were beat by a better team – that happens.
“We played with as much emotion and hustle as you can ask for as a coach, so there was only the disappointment of losing, and someone has to experience that at the end of every game.”
Darnell noted Zack Madden and Cameron Garrett as the team’s top two returning starters. Madden, who has the coveted skillset of being able to hit for speed, power and average, will play either shortshop or center field. Garrett plays catcher. “Those two are going to be very important for us,” he said. “Cameron controls the game from a defensive standpoint, and Zack does the same from the offensive side.”
There are several important dates on the Bishop England schedule this year, including two games against Hanahan, Wando and West Ashley. Challenging contests against James Island, Summerville, Beaufort and Cane Bay should also be penciled in on East Cooper baseball fanatics’ calendars. “Anytime we play larger schools and schools with great baseball traditions, they are important games,” Darnell said. “We want to prove every year that just because we are a 2A team does not mean we can’t compete with the bigger schools.”
The Bishops’ team strengths remain to be seen, as the group matures and finds individual roles. Darnell said the biggest obstacle to overcome will be a lack of game experience, especially among the pitching staff.
“We are going to throw guys to the wolves early in the season and see who survives,” he said. “The pitchers who make the most of their opportunities are going to tbe the guys we count on during region play and at the end of the season. We are hoping that competition creates opportunities for our guys to be better than they thought they could be.”
The Wando baseball team is favored in 4A-Region 7, has a top-10 preseason ranking and returns some major college prospects this season.
For coach Dirk Thomas, it’s business as usual.
“With the talent we’ve got, we’re thinking that (state championship) every year,” Thomas said. “That’s the ultimate goal. It’s within our reach every year.”
The Warriors were undefeated in region play last year and boasted a 22-5 overall record. This season, they’ll transition several younger players and hope for minimal growing pains.
“Their skill set is good. They just need a little more varsity experience,” Thomas said. “It’s a process, but their skill level is going to make it a quicker process.”
Wando will also have to overcome a couple key injuries. Senior catcher Babe Thomas had surgery on a torn labrum in December and is not expected to play this season. Centerfielder Trevor Pederson, who batted in the .400s last year, was hit by a fly ball in the cheek and has been sidelined this preseason. He’ll return in March, Thomas said.
Michael Carpin, senior pitcher committed to Georgia, takes the mound as the staff ace. The Warriors have less starting pitching depth than last year, and Thomas hopes Carpin will be able to help the younger pitches develop. “The whole staff is going to have to step up this year,” he said.
Youth isn’t something to hide from, though. Sophomore Kep Brown comitted to South Carolina, despite only one varsity at-bat last year, Thomas said. He also noted three other sophomores will serious collegiate attention.
Those include: shortstop Noah LoCascio, second baseman Oliver Hill, and third baseman and designated hitter Owen Ravenel.
“Our strength is defense. We’ll hit okay. The pitching is the question mark right now,” Thomas said. “The pitcher has to be himself. You don’t have to hit the exact corner. But, if you get the ball over (the plate), and they put it in play, we can get to it.”
Wando will be challenged by the I.P. Classic, March 7-10, in Georgetown against perennial state contenders Conway, Mauldin and Lexington.
In its third year, the Palmetto Christian Academy baseball program is a work in progress.
The Eagles took a step toward being a SCISA state contender last year by winning their region championship, but face a new region and classification this season.
“I have been told that our region we are moving into is one of the toughest,” coach Johnny Waters said. Palmetto Christian had an overall record of 9-10 and lost in the final game of the best-of-3 format in the opening round. “We are still young and learning the game, but that might not show up in the win category because of the step up in competition,” he said.
All-state selections Conner Treece and J.T. Waters return to the field to help ease the transition from the 1A level to 2A. Waters also noted the instant boost from Wando transfer student Zach Getsinger, who will play first base.
Three freshmen started as eighth graders last season: Joseph Sweatt, Tommy Gunn and Kevin Iriart. The Eagles are made up of two seniors, two juniors, two sophomores, three freshmen and three eighth graders. “With our basketball team making it to the final four of the state playoff and the rain, we have not had a lot of practice, so it will take some time to gel.”
Palmetto Christian will face strong non-region competition against Porter Gaud, Northwood Academy and Coastal Christian Prep.