Of the roughly 120 baseball teams in the 1A, 4A and 5A classifications of the South Carolina High School League, only six are still playing in the state playoffs. Three of those six - Northwestern, South Pointe and Lewisville - come from a 20-mile radius within and around Rock Hill.
“I hate to say this, but this is a football area,” said Lewisville baseball coach Billy Keels. “That’s not gonna change. But it is good every now and then for another sport to get a little shine.”
The three schools are ensuring that Football City, USA and the surrounding area are paying a little more attention to the diamond this coming week. All three open championship series on Saturday with the support of the other schools.
“We all play pretty good ball around here and we hope to continue for another week,” said Northwestern coach Mitch Walters.
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After the Trojans clinched a spot in the 5A state finals Wednesday, they drove over to South Pointe to cheer on the Stallions as they made their late comeback to win the 4A Upper State championship. Many of the guys - including some of the Lewisville Lions - played youth baseball together in Rock Hill’s city league.
And a large group played on a wooden bat showcase team coached by Keels and South Pointe coach Joel Taylor the last few summers.
About three years ago, a slew of local youth baseball players were traveling all over the state and paying thousands of dollars to play for different showcase teams. Keels and Taylor figured why not cut back on the travel and expense and have a local showcase team? Instead of charging $2,000 per player - much of which goes to pay coaching salaries - Keels and Taylor would coach the team for free and charge just $500 per player, for tournament expenses.
They assembled a roster that included Alex Reed, Drew Colvin, Trey Keels, Quentin Sanders and Austin McCall (Lewisville), Spencer Bala and Bo Taylor (South Pointe) and Will Gardiner and Will Hagood (Northwestern), some of the best players on the three teams playing for state championship rings over the next week. They called the team the “Dirtbags.”
“I saw that if we get all these (kids) together we could be just as good as some of these teams that we were paying $2,000 to play on,” Keels said. “We started playing in these same tournaments and our local boys were hanging. It was very high level. We didn’t dominate by any means but the level of competition I think made each player progress to where we are now.”
Where they are is chasing an ending to their high school baseball careers that they’ll tell their kids about. The Herald’s coverage area has had two teams competing for state titles in the same year on five occasions, but never three. Not bad for a bunch of Dirtbags.