Monday, February 24, 2014
Wando baseball returns a loaded crop of talented upperclassmen aiming to turn last year’s postseason wins into a successful 2014 campaign.
After a disappointing regular season, Wando rebounded with three wins in the District VI tournament before pushing Beaufort to extra innings in the second game of the district championship series. Wando head coach Dirk Thomas is hoping that last year’s potential has matured into this year’s wins to get the Warriors off to a better start in 2014.
“Our guys coming back as juniors now, that were playing as sophomores last season, are really stepping it up,” Thomas said. “We’ve got a lot of guys coming back that we think are going to be good.”
Leading the Warriors’ junior class is right fielder Kep Brown. Listed as a top-25 prospect in the nation by most scouting services, Brown is a 6-foot-5, 210-pound University of South Carolina commit. He has big power behind the plate, can drive the ball around the field and should be a force in the middle of the Warriors’ lineup. He’s been clocked running the 60-yard dash in 6.72 seconds and throwing as hard as 85 mph from the mound.
Middle infielder/right-hander Harrison Smith joins Brown in the Gamecocks’ 2015 recruiting class. Smith will start at shortstop for the Warriors this season while also throwing innings on the mound. Smith is ranked as one of the 10 best junior right-handed pitchers in the state.
Oliver Hill is slated to start at second base, Noah LoCascio will see time at both catcher and first base and is a power hitter, and Jack DeLongchamps is a catcher/utility player already committed to Charleston Southern. The three juniors are all ranked in the top three in the state at their respective positions in the 2015 class.
“We have some guys in our junior class that really have a great opportunity to play college baseball,” Thomas said. “Throughout our roster, we probably have 11 or 12 guys that have the ability to play college baseball at some level.”
Leadoff hitter and centerfielder Trevor Pedersen joins Brown in the outfield, along with a rotation of Payton Muller, Andrew Lee, Max Fries and Gervais DuPre in left. Owen Ravenel is projected to start at third base, Barrett Walton will see time at first and third, along with Tyler Ackard. Hogan Kelly will backup the middle of the infield.
From the mound, Jeff Gottesman, Mark Evans, Tyler Kimbrell, Smith and Lee all have the opportunity to earn starts. Kimbrell and Lee are rated statewide as top-25 right-handers in the 2014 class, while Gottesman is rated as top-15 right-hander in the 2015 class. Thomas says he’s happy with the depth but waiting on a few to emerge as a rotation for this season.
“We have a lot of guys that can play multiple positions and I think that’s one of our strengths,” Thomas said. “I feel pretty strong about the whole defense, especially in the middle from catcher to short, and second to centerfield.
We have plenty of arms to pitch. A lot of guys throw well so we’re still kind of up in the air for starters. Some of the relief guys are really close behind guys we think are starters. The ones that can go out and throw strikes are the ones that are going to be out there starting for us.”
The Warriors enter the season unranked in the S.C. Baseball Coaches Association poll, although Diamond Prospects list them as their Lower State sleeper team. West Ashley is projected as an early frontrunner in Class 4A Region VII with a solid pitching staff. Left-hander and Clemson commit Jamison Mobbs makes Stratford dangerous in the region, along with Goose Creek who is expected to have a solid pitching staff.
“It’s going to be a tight region,” Thomas said. “But we look to be improved. This is a tight group and could be a special group. We’re talented, but a lot of teams have talent. These guys have shown some of the intangibles that can set them over the top and over other teams and hopefully that can make the difference.”
Wando opens the season March 11 at Colleton County.