Zander Steele just loves to chat.
Landrum’s senior third baseman rambled all game, to his teammates, to his coaches, to opponents, to the umpires, to the fans, to the guy in the dugout he’d just met five minutes prior.
He talked batting average, ground balls, about his friends in high school, his girlfriend in college, photography, football, concussions, the Atlantic Ocean, really anything that came to mind. Steele’s string of conversations ran endless, which may seem carelessly unfocused for a senior playing in the biggest game of his career, unless you really know Steele.
That’s just him, his teammates and coaches will say. And that’s just what Cardinals coach Daniel Little wanted, for his players to remain true to themselves despite the heightened stakes.
“Just go be you,” Little told his team Wednesday on the four-hour bus ride from Campobello to Mount Pleasant for Game 2 of the Class AA state championship series. “All the pressure is on them. Just be who you are and let the rest take care of itself.”
Landrum took care of Oceanside, 4-2, at Shipyard Park in Mount Pleasant to secure the AA state championship with a sweep of the best-of-three title series.
The Cardinals’ fifth state championship is their first in AA and first since 2007. They indeed remained true to who they were, successful as winners of a school-record 90% of their games this season and undefeated in all 11 games on the road.
“Isn’t this great?” Steele asked as succinctly as he’d said anything all day while the final outs were being collected. “I just love baseball.”
When Cardinals freshman right-hander Evan Siary is who he is, he’s as good as any freshman pitcher in the state. Siary was brilliant Wednesday, going six innings, allowing just one earned run off six scattered hits and four walks, while throwing 10 strikeouts — the most any AA pitcher has thrown against Oceanside this season and second-most overall.
“That’s who he’s been for us all season,” Little said of Siary, who’s ranked as the sixth-best freshman prospect in the state. “It’s a big spot for a freshman but that kid has showed the composure of a senior all year. Nothing rattles him. It’s unbelievable.”
Landrum struck early with a pair of runs in the second inning as Patrick Clark singled home L.C. Williams and Cooper Gentry scored behind him on an errant throw home.
Oceanside fired back in the third inning. Isaac Barney tripled to lead off and then scored an out later as Aidan Pourmoghadam hit into a fielder’s choice. A collision at the plate between Barney and Landrum catcher Turner Sloan jarred the ball loose, allowing Pourmoghadam to advance to second. Gray Sobel brought him home in the next at-bat with a single up the gap to center field.
“I just tried to stay focused throughout the game no matter what happened,” Siary said. “Even when they scored, I just stayed on plan with our pitching coach. I knew our offense was going to put up the numbers to back me.”
Steele put Landrum back ahead in the fourth inning, driving the first pitch he saw into left field to score Noah Hyder. That’s also who Steele usually is, a dependable hitter. He entered the postseason hitting .422 but was wading through a mini hitting slump the past week. He joked that he was going to snap out of his slide by putting a ball in the Wando River that runs behind the outfield fence. He estimated it to be about 350 feet from home plate, which he figured was doable despite his recent struggles. His ball landed about 200 feet short in shallow left but “far enough, right?” he said with a smile upon his return to the dugout.
John Siary extended the Cardinals’ cushion with a sacrifice fly to score Cooper Gentry in the sixth inning.
“Those runs were big for us because we can get a little more aggressive,” Little said. “We can kind of modify some things to get (Siary) a little more of a cushion.”
Oceanside wouldn’t touch home again the rest of the night as Siary continued to work out of jams in front of a defense that committed just one error.
The Landsharks left a runner on second base in the fourth and fifth innings and left two stranded in the sixth inning. John Siary entered to pitch for his younger brother in the seventh. He recorded the first two outs before walking Sobel to bring the tying run to the plate. Siary worked ahead into a 1-2 count before getting Jack Mahony with a slider looking to end the game.
“We just couldn’t get the big hits when we needed to,” Oceanside coach Jerry Stoots said. “It’s really disappointing to get so close. We got down to play for (state). I’m proud of the kids for what we did. I’m disappointed we couldn’t play a little better in these two games. We shot ourselves in the foot and you can’t do that when you’re playing the best team in the state.”
Still, it was still a productive postseason for a third-year program making its first playoff appearance. The Landsharks will lose five seniors but return a large share of production from a team that went 23-8 this season and landed two wins short of a state title.
“We really think we have a chance to be a little better next year,” Stoots said. “Our kids will be coming back a little bigger, a little stronger with another year or experience… We think we have a good program started.”