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Andrew Jackson’s rise in the Class AA state baseball ranks is reflected in the Volunteers’ preseason state ranking.
The Vols, who captured the Region IV-AA championship last spring and fashioned a 15-12 mark, are rated third in the S.C. Baseball Coaches Association preseason state poll.
Bishop England of Charleston is ranked No. 1, with Dillon No. 2 and the AJ Vols third, which is also the highest rated Class AA Upper State team. Gilbert, which won the Class AA state title last season, is rated No. 5 in the Class AAA state poll.
“This is great recognition for our baseball program, school and community,” AJ baseball coach Mike Lucas said. “It is great to receive that kind of recognition from your peers.
“This ranking shows just how hard our players and coaches have worked to earn this status as we head into a new season,” Lucas said. “We’ve also had outstanding support from our administration, community and booster club. They have been most supportive in doing what was needed to help our program earn statewide recognition. There has also been a push to upgrade our facilities and that’s been a major help in helping us turn the corner and move up the ladder.”
Lucas was quick to add the Vols will have to go out and prove their ranking.
“I’m proud of our players and this shows the strides we have made, but I’ve also told them that we will have a bull’s-eye on our back from the opening pitch of the season. When your opponents see where you’re ranked, it’s motivation for them. They want to be there, too.
“Now it’s a challenge to us to go out and see if we’re up to it,” Lucas said. “I see it as a challenge in that our players will want to see if they can finish higher. This is great recognition, but you’re more concerned about how and where you finish when the season is in the books.”
AJ, which finished as the Class AA Upper State District IV runner-up, returns a solid nucleus, which includes Region IV-AA Player of the Year Chandler Neal along with all-region players Tripp Rollings and Dustin Eddins. Neal was also a recipient of the Vols’ Most Valuable Student-Athlete Award.
The 2012 Vols won the school’s first region baseball championship since the 1986 team took the title.
“I like where we are headed, but we can’t be complacent and pleased with the status quo,” Lucas said. “We need to keep working and take care of those small things. We have to keep fine-tuning.”
The Vols were ranked eighth in the final 2012 Class AA regular-season poll.
Lucas also noted region newcomer Chesterfield, a power in the Class A baseball ranks, is rated fifth in the Class AA state poll.
“Chesterfield is going to make our region that much stronger. That says a great deal about our region in that two of the top 5 teams in the preseason are ranked,” he said. “We’re in a baseball region which includes a host of teams which have won recent state baseball titles, or have played in them. This is nothing new in that each game in our region will be a battle.”
AJ will play in the Lancaster High School baseball jamboree, Gameday at Doomsday next month at the LHS baseball field.
The Vols and county and region team Buford will co-host the Comporium Preseason Invitational. Teams in the field include Great Falls, Lancaster, Parkwood of Union County, N.C., Central of Pageland, Indian Land, South Pointe of Rock Hill, BHS and AJ. The tourney opens Feb. 23, with the finals at Buford Park on March 2.
Class AA – 1. Bishop England, 2. Dillon, 3. Andrew Jackson, 4. Mid-Carolina, 5. Chesterfield, 6. Marion, 7. Ninety Six, 8. Chesnee, 9. Pendleton, 10. Andrews
Class AAAA – 1. Lexington, 2. Blythewood, 3. Sumter, 4. Mauldin, 5. Conway, 6. Wando, 7. Boiling Springs, 8. South Aiken, 9. Northwestern, 10. Laurens
Class A – 1. St. Josephs, 2. Lamar, 3. Lake View, 4. Johnsonville, 5. Lewisville, 6. Christ Church, 7. Latta, 8. Dixie, 9. McBee, 10 Fox Creek
Class AAA – 1. Wren, 2. Greenville, 3. A.C. Flora, 4. Belton Honea Path, 5. Gilbert, 6. St. James, 7. Chapin, 8. James Island, 9. Blue Ridge, 10. Walhalla