Young Stags baseball will be a work in progress this spring
By David Shelton
Moncks Corner –
Berkeley softball peaking at the right time
By David Shelton
Moncks Corner – In what has become somewhat of a trend in recent years, the Berkeley High softball team appears to be peaking at the right time.
Fifth-year coach Boogie Grooms has guided the program to consecutive district championships in the last two seasons. In both seasons, the Stags seemed to play average softball through most of the regular season only to pick up the pace and intensity when it counted most.
The 2017 Stags are hardly struggling. A 10-0 win over region 8-AAAA rival Beaufort on April 4th improved Berkeley to 11-3 on the season, 6-1 in region play. Berkeley finds itself in the running for a region title if they can close out the schedule with region wins over Colleton County and region leader Cane Bay.
“We’ve been through a lot of things this season but we’ve managed to stay focused,” Grooms said. “We’ve had injuries and the flu bug really slowed us down. For a few weeks, we had a hard time getting everyone on the field at the same time. We played some younger kids, which was a good thing. It’s paying off for us now.”
Despite having only two seniors in the starting lineup, Grooms feels this year’s team is as capable of a deep playoff run as any team he has coached. Work ethic and attitude, combined with solid talent, has the makings of a quality team.
“We definitely have some talent but this is the best bunch of girls I’ve had since I came here in terms of their attitude and desire to do things the right way,” Grooms said. “I really enjoy this team because of their attitude. They come to work every day and they have become very disciplined.”
The lone senior starters this spring are two of the better players in the Lowcountry. Jessi Stanley starts at third base and is hitting .538 this season, while Brooklyn Stone is hitting .500 as the starting shortstop.
Stanley also works in the circle and has five pitching victories.
“They are the leaders, on and off the field,” Grooms said. “I couldn’t ask for two better players to be our leaders.”
Grooms says the underclassmen have learned their roles as the season progresses and feels everyone is now on the same page.
Sophomore Raelee Bradham is sharing pitching duties with Stanley and has six wins. Junior Kinsey Hutto is one of the top hitters at first base and sophomore catcher Haley Wilkerson leads the team in RBI’s. Junior Allie Hardee is the starter at second.
Grooms is most excited about the potential of his starting outfield. Eighth-grader Jersey Silver starts in right and is “the fastest player I’ve ever coached.” Sophomore Brooklyn Stueness is the leadoff hitter and starts in center, while freshman Madison Wyndham is starting in left.
“I can’t wait to see how this outfield develops over the next three years,” Grooms said. “They’re talented young players with great attitudes.”
Rounding out the roster this spring are Madison Wiggins and Bailey Crolley, both seniors, along with Alexis Schreve, Alyssa Ware, Diamond McKelvey, McKenzie Lambert and Allie Hewitt.
Though his team is now competing on the AAAA level, Grooms feels confident that the Stags can make another successful run in the postseason.
“It seems like we’ve been a team, over the last two years, that has been able to get it together and peak in the playoffs,” Grooms said. “I think this team is taking the same path. We have the pieces in place. Our win over Beaufort was as close to a complete game as we’ve had this season so it’s coming together. If we can continue on the track we’re on, I like our chances to be a good playoff team.”
For the first time in a long time, Berkeley head baseball coach Landy Cox puts an inexperienced team on the field this spring.
Berkeley won four consecutive region titles in class AAA and moves up to region 8-AAAA this season. The common traits of the previous four title teams were experience and pitching. Cox says this year’s team begins the season with very little of either.
The Stags opened the season with a 3-2 record, picking up victories over Andrews (9-2), Colleton County (4-3) and Northwood Academy (8-0), while dropping early games to Stratford (10-6) and Academic Magnet (3-2).
“This is totally different than what we’ve had the last four or five years and it’s going to be a struggle,” Cox said. “It’s going to be one of those years where we will look great one day and look awful the next. We lack varsity playing experience on defense and our pitching is really young. We’ll do our best to compete and we will work harder than ever, but this is a different group that needs some time to mature.”
The Stags will rely on a bevy of underclassmen arms to log innings this season. Sophomores Hunter Hicks and Blake Southard, and junior Jake Hutson will likely be the top three starters. All three have proven to be solid on the lower levels but will have to perform against varsity hitters on a regular basis this season.
Senior catcher Drew Anderson is a returning starter and will carry the load in the middle of the batting order. Senior Matthew Dress has great speed and a solid throwing arm as a returning outfielder. Dress also hits in the leadoff spot and is a proven varsity hitter.
Senior C.J. Mack is a power left-handed bat at first base and started most of last season.
“Those three are it in terms of varsity players with experience from last year,” Cox said.
Berkeley likely will go with a pair of seventh-graders on the middle infield with Jeffrey Zeigler working at short and Michael Singletary at second. Junior Brant Bayless and sophomore Alec Windham are starting at the corner outfield spots, with Hayden Dawson expected to see time as the designated hitter.
“The young talent we have in our program is as good as we’ve ever had here,” Cox said. “We have good young ones in the varsity and junior varsity program. But we all know how important experience is and we just don’t have much right now.
“I think we could get better as we play more but when you lose 15 of 18 varsity guys, it’s really hard to maintain that level of winning championships. For this team, we just focus on today. We have to get better each day and if we do that, we have the potential to compete.”
The new region 8-AAAA promises to be highly competitive this spring. Region favorite Hilton Head is a preseason top 10 ranked team in AAAA. Cane Bay has perhaps their best team since 2012 while Beaufort and Colleton County are vastly improved. Stall has a new coach and looks much improved early on as well.
“We hope to win enough to get in the playoffs but there is no easy win in this region, none at all,” Cox said. “If we can improve quickly, maybe we can win some games.”