We're in for a treat.
Last fall, only one of five Columbia County football teams made the state playoffs. We did a little better in basketball, when five of 12 girls and boys teams made it to the state tournament.
Now it's baseball season, and it's time for the state to take a serious look at Columbia County.
Five of the six baseball teams in the county earned a trip to their state tournaments: Augusta Christian, Evans, Greenbrier, Harlem and Lakeside. Two of those teams, Harlem and Greenbrier, earned home-field advantage for at least the first round. Augusta Christian already has advanced to the South Carolina Independent Schools Association's state finals.
With what looks like plenty of baseball still to go in Columbia County, here's my postseason gift to you: The 2006 Baseball State Tournament Spectator's Guide.
What some are calling the best team in the history of the county is worth the cost of an overpriced state tournament ticket. The Wolfpack entered the tournament with a perfect record at 25-0. Look for the dominating duo of Brandon Cumpton (No. 12) and Nolan Belcher (No. 15) on the mound. Also, senior Rich Poythress (No. 7) is as good a hitter and third baseman as you'll find.
He's already signed with the University of Georgia, but that hasn't stopped the Seattle Mariners from considering him as a fifth-round pick in the Major League Baseball draft. The Boston Red Sox have also shown interest and sent the senior to Savannah, Ga., last weekend for a workout.
In Columbia County baseball history, the state tournament is typically when the Knights shine. Sure, they lost all the starting pitchers from last season's state semifinals squad, but who's that kid who shut down Greenbrier? It's Kyle Golden. The former reliever (No. 1) gave up only one hit in five innings against Greenbrier in the region semifinals. He also earned a win over Lee County on Wednesday in the first round of the state tournament.
In addition, senior Shawn Ward (No. 17) and sophomore Kevin Millward (No. 16) can both change the game with one swing of the bat.
Should we really be shocked that the Panthers are in the state tournament again?
Their "down year" consisted of a one-run loss to the state's top team and a dominating win over top-seeded Statesboro in the first round of the region tournament.
Paul Miller (No. 10) has found his bat and beat Statesboro almost by himself. Pitcher J.C. Huffman (No. 8) has been strong on the mound all season long, while starter Trey Dove (No. 7) gave the Panthers a key complete-game performance in round one of the region tournament.
The Bulldogs didn't have a chance when they started the season. They did have Jimmie Lewis.
With five state titles and 519 career wins entering the state tournament, Lewis knows how to win. He led this ragtag bunch to a Region 3-AAA North title and home-field advantage in the first round of the state tournament.
Evan Slagle (No. 15) and Eric Schnitzler (No. 1) have provided offensive power and senior leadership while Mike Sanders (No. 4) has turned into a strong pitching ace.
If that's not enough, senior Toree Scott (No. 16) is a one-man highlight reel in left field.
The Lions have had a tough journey to defend last season's state title. The team has battled injuries all season long, and, to add insult to injury, got shafted with a No. 5 seeding in the subjective SCISA state tournament bracket.
The Lions overcame the odds by sweeping the first-round series and quarterfinals series on the road. Starting ace Josh Sizemore (No. 8) has taken over the top pitching spot with an 8-1 record. Meanwhile, Tyler Bourdo (No. 2), Taylor Hensley (No. 7), Trey Crabill (No. 23) and Josh Whitaker (No. 23) have all swung the bats well in their pursuit of back-to-back titles.
So there's your 2006 Baseball State Tournament Spectator's Guide. As a disaster-avoiding disclaimer, this column went to print Friday, the same day tournament play began. Theoretically, all five of these teams could be eliminated from contention, which would make this guide a waste. I'm willing to bet that's not going to happen.
So enjoy this guide as we work our way to several state tournament titles.
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