State champion St. James plans to reload, not rebuild

With Class AAA baseball state champion St. James losing 10 seniors from last year’s squad, a lot of people look at it as the dugout being half empty.

But Sharks coach Robbie Centracchio sees it as half full, and the chance to replace those departing seniors as a golden opportunity.

“Anytime you have a lot of turnover people just assume you’re not going to be any good,” Centracchio said. “I look at it like a chance to look at some new kids that have been waiting their turn.”

Indeed, the Sharks seem to have a solid lineup to fill in the blanks for last year’s state title class. The pitching staff will be anchored by Preston Lane, who went 6-1 with a 2.58 ERA last season, and fellow senior Joey Troiano, who went 2-0 as a spot starter for the Sharks, will be a more permanent fixture on the mound.

Junior Zack Cook has the potential to be the ace on the staff and sophomore Trent Revis transferred in from Boiling Springs and bolsters a deep bullpen of juniors Jeromy McAlister and Caleb Duggan, sophomores Brock Gallagher, Skylar Hays and Jacon Sloan and freshman Dillon LeDuc. Junior Kasey Crooks provides a hard-throwing closer.

The infield returns three starters, including senior second baseman and Brunswick Community College commitment Trey Merritt. Hays returns to first, where he started as a freshman on the state title team, and Lane will move from third to short. Troiano, Revis and Joey Larkin are in the mix at the corners and Crooks is in line to take over at catcher.

The outfield may have the biggest holes to fill with South Carolina freshman Tanner English no longer in center field, but the Sharks have lots of talent to fill in the gaps. Juniors Carter Brakefield, Duggan, Cook Cook and McAlister, as well as senior J.C. Cavin and sophomores Jacob Sloan and Larkin.

But the biggest adjustment, for both the Sharks and every other team in the state, will be hitting. The SCHSL approved the use of the new hybrid aluminum bats that colleges adopted last season, so offensive production could take some time while teams adjust.

“It’s a good year to have a lot of turnover because of the bats,” Centracchio said. “The speed of the bats is controlled so that unless you hit it on the sweet spot, it’s not going out. I think it’s going to take everybody some time to get used to them, and that could be to our advantage.”

Either way, expect the new-look Sharks to better than expected. St. James didn’t even receive an invitation to defend its title in the IP Classic for concerns over the team’s turnover but will instead compete in the Jeff Butler preseason baseball tournament at North Myrtle Beach beginning Friday.

“We’re going to get a better idea of where we stand once we get started,” Centracchio said, “but I believe we have a talented bunch of kids who have been waiting their turn to show what they can do.”

Photo by Rancier Photography

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