Columbia County's high school baseball teams exceeded expectations during the 2003 season. Some local observers thought the county teams would be fighting an uphill battle, but five of the county's six prep squads earned state playoff berths.
While some of the success was a bit surprising, it just goes to show how much talent there is on the county diamonds.
Lakeside, for instance, lost every starter from a year ago, but the Panthers still made the state playoffs, and won their first-round series against a No. 1 seed.
Greenbrier, which had two players drafted from its 2002 team and also lost several other key performers, didn't miss a beat. The Wolfpack defended its region crown and advanced to the state playoff quarterfinals.
High school baseball is still Columbia County's bread-and-butter, and as always, a host of players rose to the occasion in 2003 to help guide their teams to victory.
Greenbrier's Scott Wandless was a star both on the mound and at the plate for the Wolfpack.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Here's the best of the bunch - the 2003 All-Columbia County High School baseball team:
Catcher: Mike Armstrong, Evans (junior). The 6-4, 215 lb. right-hander batted 364, with five doubles three home runs and 21 RBIs, plus he played excellent defense behind the plate.
First base: Rich Poythress, Greenbrier (freshman). Other than former Greenbrier star Bradley Key, Poythress is the only other freshman to ever make my all-county squad. Poythress hit .372, with two homers and nine doubles, and those numbers should keep rising over the next three seasons.
Second base: Ben Tankersley, Greenbrier (senior). Tankersley is headed to Presbyterian College on a football scholarship, but he can do more than kick field goals. He kicked it into high gear on the diamond with the Wolfpack, notching a .431 batting average, seven doubles, three home runs and 26 RBIs. Another notable stat - he struck out just nine times in 80 at-bats.
Shortstop: Will Reese, Augusta Christian (senior). Reese was tremendous on the mound, but he really made a mark with his offense, posting a .491 batting average with six doubles, 10 homers and 29 RBIs.
Third base: Adam Turner, Greenbrier (senior). Coming into the 2003 season, Turner was an established defensive player, but this past season he came on strong with his bat. He led the Pack in RBIs (40), batted .427 and added three home runs.
Outfield: Scott Wandless, Greenbrier (junior). Although he became the Pack's pitching ace this season, Wandless didn't shirk his offensive duties - he batted .471, with eight doubles, four home runs and 26 RBIs.
Outfield: Kelvin Sturgis, Harlem (senior). Sturgis makes the team with a combination of consistency and perfection. He batted .440, with eight doubles and two home runs, plus he stole 31 bases in 31 attempts.
Outfield: Jordan Belcher, Augusta Christian (senior). It's no stretch to say that Belcher had one of the best seasons in CSRA history, because the numbers back it up - .579 batting average, nine doubles, 18 home runs, 46 RBIs and 10 stolen bases.
Designated hitter (tie): Jonathan Crawford, Lakeside (junior), Travis Clark, Evans (junior), and Chance Smith, Evans (senior).
Crawford held down the shortstop position for the Panthers, and his plate production landed him on the all-county squad at DH. He hit .352, with 10 doubles, three homers and 21 RBIs.
Clark also played short, and his offensive numbers were almost identical to Crawford's, which made it impossible to select one over the other for designated hitter. Clark posted a .342 average, seven doubles, three home runs and 22 RBIs.
Smith could easily have cracked the first-team as an outfielder, but he did match Clark and Crawford to forge a three-way tie for the DH slot. The speedy Citadel signee batted .342, hit four homers, added five doubles, plus he drove in 19 runs and scored 22 more.
Pitcher: Scott Wandless, Greenbrier. Although he didn't have much experience on the mound, Wandless learned the ropes quickly and pitched the Pack to a region title and the state quarterfinals. The southpaw recorded a 9-3 record with a 2.19 earned run average, and had 93 strikeouts in 77 innings.
Pitcher: Seth Newsome, Evans (senior). If the Knights had a key game, Newsome got the call. He came through with a 6-3 record, 2.92 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 52 innings or work.
Pitcher: Craig Arrington, Lakeside (senior). The young Lakeside squad relied heavily on Arrington, and he delivered, going 7-3 with a 2.47 ERA and 49 strikeouts.
Pitcher: Will Reese, Augusta Christian. Reese really emerged as a college prospect with a solid senior season. He went 7-1 with a 1.91 ERA and fanned 54 hitters in 44 innings-pitched.
Catcher: Jeremy Armstrong, Greenbrier; Chase Richardson, Harlem.
First base: Ray Fulcher, Harlem; Matt Shelton, Lakeside; Kevin Ensley, Augusta Christian.
Second base: Adam McKinney, Augusta Christian; Thomas Folk, Augusta Prep.
Shortstop: Travis Clark, Evans; Jonathan Crawford, Lakeside.
Third base: Seth Newsome, Evans.
Outfield: Carl Burrow, Lakeside; Chance Smith, Evans; Brooks Robinson, Greenbrier.
Pitchers: John Wehr, Evans; Hank McCladdie, Evans; Michael Newman, Greenbrier; Patrick Bagwell, Lakeside; Jordan Whitaker, Harlem; Adam McKinney, Augusta Christian; Trey Migor, Augusta Prep.
Pitcher of the Year
Scott Wandless. Wandless is a tremendous athlete, but it's hard to believe how fat he adapted to pitching. He was the key to Greenbrier's run to the Class AAAA state quarterfinals, and could be a draft pick in 2004, although it will be as a position player, not as a pitcher. Wandless is one of the best pure hitters around, but he really showed some guts with his pitching under pressure.
Coach of the Year
Ed Williams, Greenbrier. You might say this honor came down to the last at-bat. Craig Johnson had a superb debut with Augusta Christian, and Jimmy Smith worked wonders with an inexperienced Lakeside squad, but Williams gets the nod over his county rivals. The Wolfpack featured only three seniors, but Williams got the most out of the young talent on his roster. Greenbrier had the best record in the county (24-8), won the Region 3-AAAA championship, and narrowly missed advancing to the Class AAAA semifinals. Williams deserves plenty of credit for those accomplishments.
Player of the Year
Jordan Belcher. One word says it all - Wow! Belcher powered his way to the high-school triple crown by leading all area players in batting average, home runs, and RBIs. His 18 homers also tied former AC player BJ Hawes for the school and county record. For his prep career, Belcher hit 41 home runs, stroked 150 hits and drove in 124 runs. The USC Aiken Pacers got a steal when they signed Belcher, but he may never suit up for any college squad. Belcher was selected last week by the Cincinnati Reds in the 41st round of the baseball draft.
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