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HSSR releases first baseball polls of 2019

Moncks Corner – As it pertains to the 2019 high school baseball season in South Carolina, Andrew Jackson head baseball coach Mike Lucas says “the front end don’t mean anything. It’s the tail end that matters most.”

Most prep coaches in the state see it exactly the same way. In terms of contending for and winning a state title, the way a season starts is far less important than what happens in May.

Lucas’ squad at Andrew Jackson is certain to be a state title contender in Class AA this season. The Volunteers have three quality arms to anchor a strong pitching staff and return eight starters, including five seniors, to the roster this spring.

“I feel like we have a very competitive group and our expectations are high for this team,” Lucas said. “A deep playoff run is certainly one of our goals. We’ll see how it all plays out.”

The top spot in the pitching rotation is handled by senior right-hander Brett Percival, a 6-4 Clemson signee. Winthrop signee Will Hudson is the next man up with 6-4 right-hander Griffin Gardner providing a key role at number three. Four underclassmen should provide solid depth on the mound.

Three-year starter Connor Killough, a junior, is the heart of the defense at shortstop. Hudson returns at second and junior Colby Jackson is back at third base.

Offensively, in addition to Percival, Hudson and Killough, is sophomore outfielder Bry Neal and junior leadoff hitter Dillon Kirk. All five hit over .300 last season.

Andrew Jackson sits atop the current AA rankings by the High School Sports Report. Perennial contender Abbeville is ranked second. The Panthers have one of the state’s top underclassmen in Matthew Ellis. Blacksburg, led by all-state left-handed pitcher Kirby Connell, is ranked third, followed by Landrum and Barnwell. Landrum is off to a 7-0 start this season.

In Class AAAAA, Boiling Springs won the I.P. Classic title to open the season but split their first two region games. Senior outfielder Dawson Taylor returns as a leading hitter and outfielder. Taylor also is one of the top left-handed pitching prospects but is nursing injury early. Two key arms will be Tristan Smith and Ashton Smith.

“To be able to compete in this region (2-AAAAA), we have to be consistent in all areas of the game,” head coach Jeff Lipscomb says. “We have struggled with scoring runs (early). We have pitching depth but we are very young (two freshmen). Hopefully we can put it all together soon.”

Region two looks to be one of the state’s most competitive in AAAAA. Defending state champion Dorman has some key players to replace with Kentucky signee Dylan Rogers serving as the key returner. Jack Renwick, a Wofford commit, also returns as a starting shortstop.

Riverside junior pitcher Caden Rice is one of the top arms in the state and will lead the Warriors. Hillcrest and Mauldin will be capable teams as well.

River Bluff is ranked second in AAAAA, with Chapin, Lexington and Dutch Fork expected to challenge the Gators in region five.

The Gators have two key returners in Clemson commits Alex Urban (OF) and pitcher Ricky Williams.

Chapin is led by USC junior commit Cade Austin, a right-handed pitcher. Lexington’s top returners are David Cromer and Cal Herndon. Cromer, an outfielder, is a junior commit to South Carolina.

Dutch Fork’s Ty Olenchuk, a Clemson verbal, leads the Silver Foxes on the mound.

Blythewood is another top 10 contender in AAAAA. Coach Banks Faulkner’s squad will be anchored by senior John Lanier and junior Landon Lucas on the bump. Shortstop Zack Bailes returns as a defensive leader in the middle.

In Class AAAA, South Aiken, A.C. Flora and Airport appear to be the top three teams, with a host of others hoping to break into the championship round in May.

South Aiken is off to a 7-1 start, led by junior pitcher Sam Swygert. Perennial power A.C. Flora is again loaded with solid talent across the board. The Falcons are led by seniors Caleb Speedy and Leighton Long, along with junior prospects Harmon Cox and Jack Reynolds.

Airport coach Tim Perry returns 15 players from the state runner-up team of 2018. Pitching will be the strength with five experienced arms that logged major innings last year. Winthrop commit Dalton Mims leads the staff. Mims was 5-1 with a 1.44 earned run average last spring.

Brandon Caughman returns as a key offensive leader and also pitches. Junior outfielder Sam LaFrage is another player to watch. Perry sees a great attitude from his team this season.

“They are relentless competitors that approach every day with an “opening day” mentality and genuinely enjoy each other as much as they do the game itself,” the coach said. “I am proud of their work ethic and am honored to go to battle with them.”

Eastside and Greenville will be contenders out of the upstate. Two sleeper teams to watch are Colleton County and Midland Valley. Both are off to 6-1 starts with Midland Valley owning a region win over Airport. Seth Richardson returns as a third-year starter for the Mustangs. Colleton County senior right-hander Chase Hadwin recently no-hit Wando and the Cougars also have a win over Berkeley.

Bishop England enters the season as the top-ranked team in Class AAA but coach Mike Darnell has a pretty young squad. Returning as senior leaders are lefty Geoffrey Gilbert (Clemson), shortstop Cory Cochran and third baseman Chris Dengler (Old Dominion). After that trio, the Bishops lack experience.

“This team has a lot of potential but our new guys will have to grow up quickly,” Darnell said. “In the long run, we just need to trust the process and show patience.”

The Bishops will get a challenge, as usual, from Hanahan for the region title. The Hawks have three solid arms in seniors Mac Toman and Trey Pooser, and sophomore USC commit Aiden Hunter.

Gilbert is a perennial contender in whatever classification they reside. The Indians were a tad young last year but should be stronger this spring with ace Joey Parker returning to anchor the pitching. Travis Elliott returns as the team’s top offensive threat.

Schools like May River, Strom Thurmond, Seneca, Cheraw and Camden will be teams to watch as we work towards the postseason.

Class AAAAA Top 10

1.       River Bluff

2.       Dorman 

3.       Fort Mill

4.       Boiling Springs

5.       Riverside

6.       Blythewood

7.       Lexington

8.       Hillcrest 

9.       Dutch Fork

10.    Stratford

 

Class AAAA Top 10

1.       South Aiken

2.       A.C. Flora

3.       Greenville 

4.       York 

5.       Midland Valley 

6.       Airport

7.       Wren

8.       North Myrtle Beach

9.       South Pointe

10.   Colleton County

 

 

Class AAA Top 10

1.       Bishop England

2.       Chapman

3.       Gilbert  

4.       Hanahan 

5.       Cheraw

6.       Camden

7.       May River 

8.       Powdersville

9.       Strom Thurmond

10.    Mid-Carolina

 

Class AA Top 10

1.       Andrew Jackson

2.       Latta

3.       Blacksburg

4.       Landrum

5.       Abbeville 

6.       Barnwell 

7.       Oceanside Collegiate

8.       Ninety Six

9.       Gray Collegiate

10.   Central

 

Class A Top 10

1.       McBee

2.       Lake View

3.       Lamar

4.       Dixie

5.       Ridge Spring-Monetta

6.       Whitmire

7.       Green Sea-Floyds

8.       Branchville

9.       Great Falls

10.   Ware Shoals


© 2017 High School Sports Report

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