The first pitch of the 28th annual International Paper Baseball Classic is weeks away, and the 2018 field features the defending tournament champion and a defending state champion.
Joining Georgetown will be defending IP Classic champion Boiling Springs, defending Class AAA state champion Bishop England, Hartsville, T.L. Hanna, Summerville, Blythewood and South Florence.
Georgetown Coach Jason West said he is “excited” about the tournament and the teams.
West expects Boiling Springs and T.L. Hanna to be the favorites to win, but said people shouldn’t overlook Bishop England, which has most of its starters back from last year.
“They’re going to be pretty good,” West said.
West is the only Georgetown High School graduate to have played in the IP Classic and coached the Bulldogs in the tournament. West was a freshman at the first tournament in 1991 and didn’t play, and then played in the next three tournaments.
As a senior in 1994, West’s Georgetown squad lost to South Florence in the IP Classic final.
“They were a powerhouse back then,” West said.
The 2017 IP Classic featured three first-time participants, but there are no newcomers in next year’s field.
Other than Georgetown, which has played in every tournament, South Florence, Hartsville and Blythewood have the most previous appearances among the 2018 teams with five. Bishop England and Boiling Springs have played in the tournament two previous times, and Blythewood and T.L. Hanna have both played once before.
Georgetown has not won an IP Classic game since beating Dorman in 2014.
West said he felt like the team was close to winning a game in this year’s tournament.
The Bulldogs went 12-12 in 2017 after winning only six games in 2016 and six games in 2015.
“I think we have a lot of good players this year but a lot of it depends on chemistry,” West said.
South Florence returns to the IP Classic after more than a 20-year absence.
After winning the 2017 IP Classic, Boiling Springs made it all the way to the Class AAAAA Lower State final where they lost to Northwestern, the eventual state champion.
Blythewood has not played in the IP Classic since 2011, but Bengals Coach Banks Faulkner led Summerville to the tournament title in 2015.
“I can share those experiences with the team and give them an idea of what to expect,” Faulkner said. “I feel like we are ready to compete at that level.”
Faulkner added that he was excited to be invited to the “destination tournament in the preseason.”
Blythewood’s 2018 roster should have a lot of sophomores and juniors on it. Faulkner said his “young and talented” team is probably a year away from having post season success.
Last season, Summerville won the District VII-AAAAA title. Two other IP Classic teams – Hartsville and T.L. Hanna – lost in the district finals.
This year’s IP Classic had three days of nice weather, and then Mother Nature struck. Only the championship game, where Boiling Springs beat Easley 4-0, was played on the final day. The three consolation games were rained out.
Here is the schedule for the 2018 IP Classic.
Thursday, March 1: Bishop England vs. Hartsville, 2 p.m.; South Florence vs. Georgetown, 4:15 p.m.; Summerville vs. T.L. Hanna, 6:45 p.m.; Blythewood vs. Boiling Springs, 9 p.m.
Friday, March 2: Summerville vs. Hartsville, 10:30 a.m.; South Florence vs. Boiling Springs, 1 p.m.; Bishop England vs. T.L. Hanna, 3:30 p.m.; tournament ceremonies, home run derby, base running contest, 6 p.m.; Blythewood vs. Georgetown, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 3: T.L. Hanna vs. Hartsville, 9 a.m.; South Florence vs. Blythewood, 11:30 a.m.; Bishop England vs. Summerville, 2:30 p.m.; Boiling Springs vs. Georgetown, 5 p.m.; Fellowship of Christian Athletes supper, 8 p.m.
Sunday, March 4: consolation games at 9 and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.; championship game, 3 p.m.