Baseball practice heralds arrival of spring
Spring doesn’t officially begin until March 21, but nothing heralds its arrival more than the scent of freshly mowed infield grass and the crisp crackle of stretched horsehide striking cured cowhide.
Even Mother Nature chipped in to cooperate, clearing out the frigid weather from the week before and pulling in blue skies, sunshine and temperatures in the 70s as teams dusted off the rust from last season.
Some teams are rebuilding, while others are getting better. For the Berkeley Stags, they have a District 7 championship to defend.
“We should be okay,” said BHS Coach Landy Cox. “While we don’t have that outright stud bat or arm, we have a lot of guys who are solid, steady players.”
Try an entire starting nine returning from last year’s District 7 Championship team, and except for one or two position players, all are just juniors. “We’re still young, but we’ve got experience,” Cox said. “These kids are gamers. They don’t like to lose.”
Leading the returning starters is three-year starter Kyle Garrick behind the plate, arguably one of the best catchers in the region and a mainstay at catcher since eighth grade.
The Stags are strong up the middle with keystone combination Connor Teague and Dillon Salisbury at short and second, and Eric Orton in center.
On the mound Drew Lockliear returns to the Stag fold after two years, transferring back from SCISA state runner up Northwood. Lockliear brings playoff and championship experience to the mound to team up with District 7 championship series winner Sterling Fiddie.
“Both guys throw the ball really well, but we also have some younger arms coming up that will be exciting to watch,” Cox said.
Berkeley will play in a new region that includes baseball powerhouses James Island and Hanahan.
“We have to get a couple guys healthy but they should be ready to go by mid-March,” Cox said.
Up Hwy. 52 the Timberland Wolves are putting the final puzzle pieces in place that Coach Chris Pond hopes will return his Wolves to the success they enjoyed when the likes of Cody Craig, Sean Stanley and Brian Welch filled the diamond.
“This year and the next two years I’m going to be young, and hopefully we can handle the tough early schedule,” Pond said.
Pond will turn the ball over to a pair of sophomores in Lucas Carr and Wyatt Craig, and a freshman Josh Winningham, who saw significant innings as an eighth grader.
“We also have Tripp Wilkie back behind the plate who missed most of season with wrist injury,” Pond said.
Patrolling the outfield will be Dylan Craig and Rodney McCray with Matt Gabel and Ryan Hood helping out.
“Hopefully we will try some young kids early on until everyone gets back from wrestling,” the Wolves coach said.
Like everyone else, Pond is ready for the opening bell to sound. “I’m excited about start of practice and ready to get moving,” he said.
Over at Cane Bay the Cobras have to deal with not just a new region but a step up in classification, rising up to Class AAAA this spring.
Coach Shane Todd also has to find someone to fill the innings and wins void left behind by longtime workhorse Zach Wimmer who will toe the rubber for The Citadel this spring.
While many might think 2013 to be a rebuilding year for the Cobras, Todd returns a hefty lineup with 14 lettermen and five starters from last year’s team. It’s the four starters lost to graduation that leaves a gaping void in the Cane Bay lineup.
“We lost six seniors and four of them were four-year starters,” Todd said. “Their experience in big games will be missed. They played a large role in winning two consecutive region championships. This year's team will have experience as well and it will give some guys that have been waiting their turn an opportunity to be major contributors.”
The Cobras have nine seniors that have been a part of Cane Bay baseball for five years that are led by the outfield trio of Davon Higgins, Blaine Peck, and Justin Shelton, a trio that Todd believes “should be one of the top outfields in the Lower State. It’s their turn to lead the program into AAAA competition.”
The Cobras have seven juniors vying for playing time along with six sophomores and seven freshman returning, plus a number of transfer students that will deserve a look this spring.
“We have a difficult task ahead by playing in one of the state's top regions,” Todd said. “Stratford has been the standard in the Lowcountry for 25 years, Goose Creek has improved tremendously as a program over the last seven years and has two of the top pitchers in the Lowcountry.”
Scrimmages start next week across the board. On Feb. 22, Berkeley hosts a bracket of the Pre-season Invitational tournament with games against Timberland and Cane Bay.
The regular season begins March 4 with the state playoff schedule beginning in late April.