This sounds like a broken record, but it was another great year for high school baseball in Columbia County.
Greenbrier, Evans and Lakeside all advanced to the state playoffs in 2002, with the Wolfpack going all the way to the Class AAAA semifinals before bowing out to eventual state champion Marist.
Ed Williams' Pack squad was expected to be a bit down this year, with the graduation of superstars Bradley Key (USC Aiken) and Chad Thornhill (University of Georgia).
But thanks to monster years from brothers Nick and Scott Wandless, some timely hitting and great team chemistry, Greenbrier won another Region 3-AAAA crown.
At Evans, first-year coach Ricky Beale helped carry on the Knights' winning baseball tradition. Senior Justin Walker put together one of the most complete seasons of any prep player in the state, and the bats of Jon Lee & Co. led Evans all the way to the Class AAAAA quarterfinals.
All in all, 2002 was another year to remember, thanks to some amazing young athletes.
In recognition of the top performers from the recently completed season, here is the A.B.'s Bottom Line fifth annual All-County High School Baseball Team.
Catcher: Parker Dye (Lakeside, senior) - has been a standout performer for the Panthers for four years, and his senior campaign was outstanding. Dye hit .434 with two home runs and 34 RBI. The right-hander helped Lakeside to 21 wins and a second-round appearance in the Class AAAA state playoffs. The Young Harris College signee is a real presence behind the plate.
First base: Brendan Thomas (Evans, senior) - a smooth defensive player with a good bat, Thomas hit .320 and scored 23 runs. He was an honorable mention All-Region 4-AAAAA selection, but he makes the first team here.
Second base: Jon Lee (Evans, senior) - Lee has been a key player for the Knights for four years. His offensive numbers were better in 2001, but his showing as a senior was still excellent - a .391 average with six home runs, 36 RBI and a .667 slugging percentage. The first-team All-Region player isn't being strongly recruited, but he should be.
Third base: Adam Turner (Greenbrier, junior) - had a solid season at the hot corner. Turner hit .326, with nine doubles and 25 RBI. His on-base percentage was .420, and he kept opponents off base with super glove work.
Shortstop: Justin Walker (Evans, senior) - "Bubba" may be the most improved player in the CSRA over the past three years. His senior campaign was simply amazing - a .440 batting average, with six home runs and 34 RBI, plus he led the team in doubles (12) and slugging percentage (.740).
Left field: Jordan Belcher (Augusta Christian, junior) - his talent was on display in Georgia Independent Schools Association play. Belcher hit a whopping .597 and belted 10 of AC's 15 homers. He also led the Lions in RBI (33), stolen bases (19) and slugging percentage, which was an astonishing 1.269!
Center field: Philip Tapley (Greenbrier, senior) - despite an injury which kept him from pitching, Tapley was a driving force in the Pack's run to the state semifinals. He hit .364 with 29 RBI, led the team in home runs (six) and stolen bases (nine), and was solid defensively. Tapley was chosen in the 28th round of the amateur baseball draft, and if he doesn't sign with the San Francisco Giants, he will play next year at Manatee Junior College, which finished second in the World Series in 2002.
Right field: Danny Ryan (Lakeside, senior) - he doesn't get the notoriety of some other prep players, but his numbers are hard to ignore - a .435 average, with five homers and 35 runs scored. Technically a left fielder, but fills out this all-county team in right.
Designated hitter: Scott Wandless (Greenbrier, sophomore) - the right fielder earns a spot on the team with his bat. He led the Pack with a .427 average at the plate, added two home runs and scored 33 runs. As a lead-off man, Wandless was the catalyst for a potent Pack offense.
Nick Wandless (Greenbrier, senior) - Wandless was the main man at the Brierpatch, finishing with a 12-2 record, a 3.06 ERA, and 113 strikeouts in 93 innings pitched. A force all season for the Pack.
Seth Newsome (Evans, junior) - first team all-region selection posted a 7-2 record, with a 2.19 ERA and 65 Ks in 54 innings, including 14 strikeouts in a key region game late in the season. Newsome had back-to-back shutouts to help guide Evans to the state playoffs.
John Wehr (Evans, junior) - had a county-best ERA of 1.65, with a 6-1 record and 40 strikeouts in 55 innings.
Justin Walker (Evans, senior) - good enough to get the nod at two positions on the all-county team. At pitcher, the Augusta State University signee went 8-4, with a 2.19 ERA.
Matt Josephson (Lakeside, senior) - The right hander's record of 5-3 wasn't overwhelming, but he had a 2.78 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 58 innings.
Catcher: Robert Davis (Greenbrier, senior) - signed with Virginia Tech, but decided to go the JUCO route at Manatee Junior College. After being selected in last week's draft by the San Francisco Giants Davis, he has another decision to make. Davis could have been a first-team all-county pick, but Lakeside's Dye threw out more baserunners. Davis hit .384, with 11 doubles and 19 RBI. Also, he struck out only five times in 99 at-bats.
First base: Eric Mamo (Lakeside, senior) - he had never played first base before 2002, and did an admirable job for the Panthers. The former designated hitter also displayed some power at the plate by hitting a grand slam in the state playoffs.
Second base: Will Reese (Augusta Christian, junior) - normally a shortstop, but he's too good to leave off the all-county team. The GISA all-state performer hit .514, with two home runs, 31 RBI and a team-high 10 doubles. Reese also was superb defensively.
Third base: Wes Turner (Lakeside, senior) - his batting average was under .300, but Turner made up the difference with leadership skills and defense. He also swatted a grand slam against Jones County during a second-round state playoff series.
Shortstop: Preston Crews (Lakeside, senior) - another player who was hard to leave off the first team. Crews hit .429 and scored 37 runs for the Panthers.
Left field: Kelvin Sturgis (Harlem, junior) - he's great in football, but not too bad in baseball, either. Sturgis hit .313 and stole 34 of 35 bases for the Bulldogs.
Center field: Fernando Mickens (Evans, senior) - without injury problems, he probably makes the first team. Mickens still managed to hit .347 with two homers and 19 RBI. His range in the outfield was unmatched.
Right field: Graham Posey (Greenbrier, senior) - actually played left field for the Pack, but he had to be fit somewhere on the all-county list. Posey hit .380, with team-high totals in RBI (36) and doubles (16).
Designated hitter: Carlos Markyna (Lakeside, senior) - has played several positions during his prep career, and would be a great all-county DH. Markyna hit .313, with five home runs and 29 RBI. Additionally, he posted a 4-2 mark on the mound, with a 2.69 ERA.
Chris Synan (Lakeside senior) - was 6-1 with a 3.28 ERA. Synan should keep improving as a player next season with North Georgia College.
Michael Newman (Greenbrier sophomore) - a good No. 2 pitcher for the Pack, Newman was 6-1 with a 3.68 ERA.
David Whitfield (Augusta Christian junior) - AC's ace, with a 7-2 record, 3.17 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 53 innings pitched.
Honorable Mention: Harlem - Donny Demore (pitcher), Matt Dobbs (shortstop); Lakeside - Craig Arrington (pitcher), Andy Dyke (second base); Greenbrier - Michael Walden (pitcher), Ben Tankersley (second base); Evans - Mike Armstrong (catcher), Travis Clark (shortstop).
As tough as it was to nail down first- and second-team all-county selections, the choices for superlative honors were very clear cut.
Best Offensive Player: Jordan Belcher - some will argue that Augusta Christian's private-school competition is not too tough, but Belcher's stats don't lie. A .597 batting average and 10 home runs led the county, and he also drove in 33 runs and swiped 19 bases. His slugging percentage of 1.269 would be impressive in any league, and was one of the best in GISA history.
Best Defensive Player: Parker Dye - the Lakeside legend seems born to play catcher, but don't discount his work ethic. Dye gets the ball to second base as fast as any prep catcher in the state, and he also has been a great offensive player during his career with the Panthers.
Best All-around Player: Justin Walker - at pitcher, in the field, at the plate and in the dugout, Walker was the team-leader for Evans. On the mound, he anchored a young staff and struck out 76 batters in 73 innings. Offensively, he was dangerous in the No. 3 slot, with a .740 slugging percentage, .440 average, six homers, 12 doubles and 34 RBI.
Coach of the Year: Ed Williams (Greenbrier) - Ricky Beale had a great debut with the Knights, but Williams had more to overcome in 2002. The Pack entered the season with key losses to graduation, plus Philip Tapley wasn't able to pitch because of arm surgery. Still, Williams guided his team to a region title and a second straight trip to the state semifinals.
Player of the Year: Nick Wandless - Walker had a big year for the Knights, but Wandless was a workhorse in his first season as a starting pitcher. He had 12 victories (four more than anyone else in the county) and 113 strikeouts (41 more than his closest competitor). Wandless sported a 2.06 ERA heading into the state semifinals, and his final ERA of 3.06 was mostly due to the strong hitting of Marist.
Prior to his season-ending loss to the eventual Class AAAA state champs, Wandless had won 12 straight. His playoff performance in the quarterfinals against Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe was unbelievable - he posted 15 strikeouts and won Game One of the series, then came back to earn a save in the Game Two clincher.
If that's not enough to convince you Wandless is Columbia County's High School Baseball Player of the Year, consider he also hit .368, with three home runs and 29 RBI.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.