Bishop England’s Gilbert becomes first junior to win Gatorade Player of the Year

{child_byline}By Frankie Mansfield

fmansfield@moultrienews.com{/child_byline}

It was early in a rivalry game midway through the season when an opposing third-base coach turned to the Bishop England dugout to pose a question of which he seemingly already knew the answer.

“How’s he been this season?” He asked aloud in reference to Geoffrey Gilbert who was warming up on the mound behind him. He began smiling before he even finished asking.

“Geoff?” a Bishops assistant responded with a grin to match. “Yeah, you know, he’s been all right.”

The two shared a hearty laugh at the absurdity of it all. That’s the kind of season it’s been for the best player in the state.

Gilbert has been announced as the 2018 Gatorade South Carolina Baseball Player of the Year. He’s the first junior to ever win the award in its 32-year history.

Gilbert is the third Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year from Bishop England, following former first-round Major League draft picks Reese Havens in 2005 and Drew Meyer in 1999. As a state player of the year, Gilbert is now a finalist for the Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year award that’ll be announced in June.

“This award is one I’ve worked for since I began my high school career in seventh grade,” Gilbert said. “I found out I won this morning after I got out of an exam. My phone began to blow up with messages. I had a huge smile on my face. I didn’t really know what to say.”

Gilbert led Bishop England to its second straight state championship this season with a perfect 10-0 record on the mound. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound lefty finished with a 0.21 ERA, allowing just two earned runs and 19 hits while striking out 93 batters through 66 ⅓ innings. He didn’t allow an earned run through four postseason starts and closed the season with a complete-game shutout that clinched the state championship series. Gilbert is 18-0 dating back to the middle of his freshman season. He’s made 36 straight appearances without suffering a loss.

Gilbert was more than just a pitcher, though. The state’s top-rated prospect and longtime Clemson commit started every game of the season, moving between first base and right field when he wasn’t pitching, and committed just one error. He went .333 at the plate, driving in 27 runs, scoring 23 and hitting three home runs.

“He lives for these big moments,” Bishop England coach Mike Darnell said of Gilbert following Game 3 of the state championship series. “Plenty of guys can pitch well but not a lot of guys are dominant every single time in the biggest games with everything on the line all year long. He’s been incredible every time we’ve needed him to be.”

Bishop England’s staff mapped out Gilbert’s pitching schedule before the start of the season. He was slotted in the biggest games against the toughest opponents. He opened the season with a pair of wins over AAAAA Summerville, then ranked third in the state. The first was a nine-strikeout performance in the IP Classic that came hours after Gilbert had won the tournament’s home run derby. The second was a complete-game shutout on the road in Summerville.

Gilbert followed with another shutout win over AAAAA James Island in his third appearance. He didn’t allow an earned run until the middle of April. He threw 10 strikeouts in his first appearance this postseason. He threw 14 strikeouts in a game twice this season, the first against AAA Top 10 Hanahan and the second in the Lower State championship game against Gilbert High School.

“Just a solid all-around player,” Hanahan coach Brian Mitchell said. “There’s not much the kid can’t do. He’s the real deal.”

The Gatorade Player of the Year selection committee chooses winners based not only on athletic excellence but academics and personal character as well. Gilbert maintained a 3.25 GPA this season while donating his time to the Charleston Miracle League, which serves children or young adults with special needs. He also volunteers locally with Carolina Basset Hound Rescue and is an altar server at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

As a Gatorade Player of the Year, Gilbert will be able to select a national or local youth sports organization to receive a grant as part of Gatorade’s Play It Forward program. Every state winner receives a $1,000 grant to donate and will have the opportunity to enter for an additional $10,000 spotlight grant.

Gilbert is the first Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year from a Lowcountry school since Havens in 2005. Summerville’s Steven Jackson in 2000 is the only other Lowcountry winner since Meyer won in 1999.

“It’s a huge honor to be mentioned in that company,” Gilbert said. “I’m a homegrown kid and will always come back to the place where I matured and grew as a man and a ballplayer. Reese Havens and Drew Meyer were both fantastic talents. They always gave respect to the game and gave 100 percent all the time. To be mentioned with those guys is a huge honor.”

Gilbert joins Porter-Gaud’s Aaron Nesmith, South Carolina Boys Basketball Player of the Year, as the second Gatorade state winner from the Lowcountry this year.