March Madness: Baseball Season Is in Full Swing!

We’re past the midway point of March now, and that means a couple of things:  March Madness has started, and local baseball is in full swing.

When I moved to Sumter back in August of 2004, I quickly learned that this is a riley 01baseball and softball town. Although I came in after the Sumter P-15’s had shut down for the season, I was still taken aback when The Item sports editor Dennis Brunson told me during my job interview that over 1,000 people would attend an American Legion baseball game.

I thought he’d changed the date of April Fools Day.

In Anderson, I had covered some American Legion games for the Anderson Independent-Mail after graduating from Presbyterian College. There might have been 30 people in attendance at those games. Maybe.

bobby-richardson-bbcAnymore, however, there is always good, competitive baseball and softball being played in and around the City of Sumter. There’s the Parks & Recreation department putting the kids on a field beginning in tee-ball and that runs into their teenage years.

But maybe the best ball being played right now is over at the University of South Carolina-Sumter.

I know many people who, when they hear “junior college athletics,” tend to think that the caliber of play isn’t up to snuff. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

fireantsThe Fire Ant baseball team won 204 games in its first five seasons and finished the 2009 season ranked 3rd in the country under head coach Tom Fleenor. They’ve had 3 Region X tournament runner-up finishes and two regular season Region X titles.

Twenty-five former Fire Ant players have moved on to play for an NCAA Division I team – including University of South Carolina, University of Tennessee, College of Charleston, Presbyterian College and Winthrop. Three players have been drafted in the Major League Baseball draft – two of them local products in Tyler Christman and Tyler Smith.

The softball team is coming off it’s best season to date, including making a run in the Region X softball tournament. Sumter product Age Cataldo has guided the Lady Fire Ants to a 9-5 mark this season and a 5-3 record in the region games.

The best part is, both teams will combine to play 22 more home games at parks rightriley-02 here in the city – the baseball team at newly-remodeled Riley Park and the softball team at the beautiful Bobby Richardson Sports Complex in Palmetto Park.

So head on out to catch a game soon! The baseball team returns to home action on March 27 and then again on March 29-30. The Lady Fire Ants are also back home March 29-30.

by Patrick Enzor

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