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New Lancaster Legion Post 31 coach Brett Blackmon will be looking to blend a group of veteran players with a solid nucleus of young players in hopes of earning a playoff bid this summer.
Blackmon sports a group of players who have Legion baseball experience as well as a cast of young players poised to move into senior team roles and contribute.
“We have to mesh up our younger guys with some of these veteran players and get them working as a unit.” said Blackmon. “I view us as a young team which will improve as the season moves on.”
Blackmon, assisted by Phillip Greenleaf, sports experience at nearly every position.
The catcher postion is solid with junior team standout Andrew Smyre, the starter at Lancaster High School this spring, and Buford star Joseph Wright, who has signed to play baseball at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster. Smyre was the junior team MVP last summer when the team earned a first-ever state championship tournament bid.
Wright played Legion baseball two years ago, earning a starting role. He has been selected to play in the annual North-South All-Star game next month.
First base is manned by Joe Threatt and Will Gaston, who played key roles in the junior team’s success last season. Threat was the LHS first baseman, while Gaston played third for the Bruins, but is making the move across the diamond this summer.
Rico Robinson, the senior team Rookie of the Year last summer, is at second base along with returnee Ross Maiden.
Mike Catoe, a three-sport standout at LHS headed to Charleston Southern University to play baseball, is at shortstop. First-year player Devin Rodgers, who played on the LHS junior varsity baseball team this spring, will also work at short.
Trevor Hammond, who earned the David Dagenhart Award and served as a team captain last season, will be at third base. Hammond earned all-region honors for the Bruins this spring. Maiden and Colt Ellis, a standout on the Buford High School team, which finished third in the Class A Upper State championship tournament, will also be at third base.
First-year player Bryan Gainer, who had a solid season at LHS, will be in right field.
Post 31 returnee Josh Warfield will be in center field and Nick Ferguson is set to handle left field.
Ferguson, a star at LHS in 2008, will join the P-31 team after his Spartanburg Methodist team competes in the National Junior College World Series. Tyler Vaughn, a junior team player last season, will also see time in the P-31 outfield as a first-year player.
The pitching staff includes a host of hurlers – Hammond, Catoe Maiden, Ferguson, Warfield, Ellis, Vaughn and Richie Robinson.
“Some of our pitchers have more experience than others, but we will count on all of them to contribute in some fashion,” Blackmon said. “The key is staying healthy and playing together as a team.”
Blackmon said the P-31 schedule is a challenge with its League V slate and non-region games with Camden and Pineville.
“This team has plenty of potential, but we will have to prove ourselves each time we take the field,” he said.
P-31 athletic officer Mike Lucas likes the team’s chances.
“We missed the playoffs last season and we want to get back there this summer,” Lucas said. “We have a tremendous tradition with this program and we want to be competing for the postseason and the state title each season.”
P-31 opens its season tonight when it hosts Bishopville at 7.
Lancaster hosts Pineville on Thursday.
The annual P-31 junior team vs. senior team showcase game is Friday night at Eggleton Field at 7.
Lucas also noted the annual P-31 baseball charity ride will be held May 30. Registration will be at Timeouts, with the final stop at the Kickstand.
Stops will also be at the North Corner Grocery, Dale Sports Bar, Kickstand 97 and James G’s.
Entertainment after the ride is at the Kickstand. Prizes are $500 for the best hand, $200 for the second-best hand and $100 for the worst hand.
A 50-50 drawing will be held along with a $1,000 drawing.
For more details on the ride, call Chuck “Catfish” Hunter at 320-7475. The ride committee includes Dale Robertson, B.G. Morgan, Laura Lewis and Jeff Hammond.