Offense crucial in Post 31 senior season

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By Robert Howey

Coach Rashad Cunningham, in his first season guiding the Lancaster Post 31 American Legion baseball senior team last summer, did a stellar job, going 27-10 and earning a coveted state tournament bid.

Cunningham will need another solid coaching effort for the 2008 campaign, if P-31 is to duplicate that success.Lancaster must replace nine starters off a club, which also won the League V crown.“We’re a young team,” said Cunningham, who shared The Lancaster News 2007 Coach of the Year Award for male sports with LHS baseball coach Steve Williams. “Most of our inexperience is in our pitching staff, so the key is for us to be productive at the plate and score our share of runs.”Cunningham, assisted by first-year coach Tyler Anderson, does have back eight players with Legion baseball experience.Lancaster High School baseball MVP Nick Ferguson, an all-region pick, is back after playing two seasons ago. Ferguson will be counted on to pitch and play in the outfield.The P-31 infield has four returnees, which includes Darius Cherry, who will work at catcher and third base. Khoury Hammond is a veteran performer at first base. Josh Eubanks returns to play second base, with returnee Ross Maiden at shortstop. Evan Byrd, an all-region pick at LHS, will be at first base after moving up from the junior team. Returnee Ross Maiden will be at shortstop, where newcomer Tyler Vaughn, who plays at Andrew Jackson high School, will provide depth. Vaughn is also expected to draw playing time at second.Cherry will be at third base where first-year player Rico Robinson will see hot corner duty.Matt Schipani, a first-year player from Fort Mill who is slated to play in the new USC-Lancaster program, will be at catcher along with Trevor Hammond. Hammond earned the Coaches Award with the P-31 junior team last season.Dedric Mingo, a P-31 captain last season following a solid year at LHS in 2007, is back after playing this spring at Spartanburg Methodist College.He will be in the outfield with Ferguson, a SMC signee, and returnees Clint Hunter and Matt Woods. First-year players expected to see outfield playing time are Josh Warfield, Jordan Workman, J.R. Tripp and Justin Hinson.Cunningham will count on 11 players to handle the pitching, including Byrd, Cherry, Ferguson, Trevor Hammond, Hinson, Maiden, Tripp, Vaughn, Warfield, Woods and Workman.“Each one of those pitchers will be vital to our team because we need them to throw strikes and we have to be fundamental in our play,” Cunninghan said. “We have to make plays and not give teams extra outs. Our ability to score runs and back our pitchers will also be crucial to our season.”Cunningham said Chester is the team to beat in League V play.“They have an experienced pitching staff and that’s a big key,” he said.The P-31 senior team meets the junior squad tonight at 7 p.m. at Eggleton Field in an exhibition.                                           The senior team will also participate in the Dalzell Preseason Tournament on Saturday when F-31 faces Bishopville at 1 p.m. and host Dalzell at 4:15.P-31 schedule:Tonight senior team vs. junior team, Saturday at Dalzell Preseason Tournament, Monday at Camden, Tuesday at Sumter, Wednesday Pineville, Thursday at Pineville, May 26 Fort Mill, May 27 Camden, May 29 CloverJune: 10 at Clover, 12 Rock Hill, 13 at Fort Mill, 16 Chester, 17 at Fort Mill, 18 at Chester, 19 Rock Hill, 23 Clover, 24 at Rock Hill, 27 at Chester, 30 Fort MillJuly: 7 at Rock Hill, 8 Chester, 14-18 first-round playoffs (best of five), 21-25 second round playoffs (best of five), July 30-Aug. 3 state tournament (Florence)