BE baseball team to begin 2019 season as No. 1 team in Class AAA
Two sure signs spring is on its way. The International Paper Baseball Classic (IPBC) is less than a month away, and the South Carolina Baseball Coaches Association’s preseason polls have been released.
The IPBC is held annually in Georgetown and features the top teams around the state, regardless of classification. The polls, meanwhile, rank the teams from 1-10, by classification from A to AAAAA.
That’s where the Bishop England baseball team enters the picture. Coach Mike Darnell’s crew will play in the prestigious tourney, which is slated for Feb. 28 - March 3 at Mike Johnson Field. The Bishops, who won the tournament last year, begin the 2019 season as the No. 1 team in Class AAA.
That’s partly because of the Bishops’ reputation. It’s also because of the Bishops’ track record. They have won back-to-back state titles and are 55-11 the past two seasons, including 31-2 last spring when the Bishops were arguably the best team in the state, regardless of classification. Last spring marked the third time the Bishops topped 30 victories in a season, and the state title was the ninth in the school’s history.
Are the Bishops up for a hat trick?
“Anything is possible,” said Darnell, who has a 324-169 career record, including a 288-108 mark and five state championships at Bishop England. “We do have some talented young players, but to get three in a row, a lot of things are going to have to go our way. We also are going to have to get a ton better from today until the end of the year.”
The team had 12 players graduate and lost some highly skilled players from last year’s team, including Leo Albano, Will Bastian and Matthew McManus.
The only returning starters are Geoffrey Gilbert (P/OF/1B), Corey Cochran (2B/SS) and Chris Dengler (SS/3B).
Gilbert, the top left-hander in the state will play for the Clemson Tigers in 2020. But first on his to-do list is to conclude his brilliant career at BE. He posted a 10-0 record last season with an ERA of 0.20 to earn Gatorade state player of the year honors.
“He is the most talented pitcher I have coached ... no question about it,” Darnell said “We have had a few other guys who were great pitchers, but none of them were as talented as he is. Those guys made it on sheer determination and work. The thing about Geoffrey is that he has talent and works as hard as anyone we have had around here. He is a pretty special young man.”
Darnell isn’t concerned about Gilbert putting too much pressure on himself even as he takes on a more dominant leadership role.
“He has put pressure on himself since he arrived as a seventh-grader. Pressure doesn’t bother him; he is better with pressure.”
Daniel Brooks begins the season as the Bishops’ most promising underclassman. He has the size, talent and work ethic to be impressive. Travel league scouting services rate him very highly.
But other young players must emerge and start fast because of the Bishops’ challenging schedule.
“Hopefully this group learns to have fun with the game and are able to find a personality of their own,” Darnell said. We don’t have as much pitching depth as we have had in the past, and those young and inexperienced guys are going to be counted on right out of the gates. As long as we trust the process we will be fine in the end.”
And so the 2019 season begins.