BARNWELL, S.C -- Barnwell lost two all-state performers from last season's baseball team that advanced to the Class AA Lower State championship series.
But even with the losses of catcher Jason Randall and pitcher Jason Rutland, the War Horses have had a more rewarding season this year, and will play for the Lower State title today when they face Mullins at 5 p.m.
The War Horses don't have the flash of last year's team that went 10-0 in winning the Region 6-AA regular-season title. But that hasn't hurt coach Steve Scolamiero's bunch, which has relied on consistency and team effort to make its way through the postseason.
Bishop England eliminated Barnwell in the third game of last year's Lower State championship series, shutting down Randall, now at The Citadel, and Rutland, who signed with Anderson. But the Battling Bishops couldn't contain a hungrier War Horse team this year, falling Monday 4-2 to Barnwell in Charleston.
"We still remembered last year a little when we went up there this time," Scolamiero said. "To beat them at their place was great. Last year I think the guys kind of depended on one or two players to carry us, and they didn't come through for us. This year's club has somebody different stepping up each game."
The War Horses are led by a group of seniors, with pitchers Matt C. Fields and Ronnie Davis manning the mounds. Both have signed to play for USC Aiken next season. Fields is 8-2 this year with a 2.86 ERA, while Davis is 8-3 with one save. Davis also leads the team in home runs with six and RBI with 34.
Senior center fielder Justin Williams paces the War Horses at the plate, holding team-highs in batting average (.449), hits (35), runs scored (37) and stolen bases (16). Seniors Taylor Baxter and Tripp Lott also are batting above .300 on the year.
Scolamiero is hoping last year's experience will carry them through Mullins, who knocked off Bishop England 4-3 Wednesday to advance to today's matchup. Since Barnwell is 2-0 in the Lower State title series, Mullins (2-1), must defeat the War Horses twice to advance. The winner will play Abbeville or West Oak next week for the state title.
"I don't know much about Mullins, but if they're in this position I already know that they are pretty good," Scolamiero said. "We're not a team that's going to pound out 15 hits, but applying pressure and playing aggressive defense, we'll be able to do. We got stuck this time a year ago, but the guys got that taste of success and now I think they want to build on it."