It ended as a weekend of disappointment on the diamond, but there were still lots of positives to take away from USCB baseball’s first action of the 2022 season. Despite dropping three of four games in the series, we saw some encouraging signs on the mound and on defense alongside a few strong performances at the dish. Here are a few Sand Sharks that caught my eye and raised their stock as Ted Falkner’s second season at the helm gets rolling.
Brian Meyer, LF: The job of a leadoff hitter is to find a way to get on base and set the tone for your lineup, and Meyer did that consistently for USCB over the weekend. Playing three games at leadoff and another batting second, Meyer was 4-for-11 at the plate with three walks and a remarkable .500 on-base percentage. But he was even more lethal on the basepaths, going an incredible 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts including a pair of key double steals in game 3 to set up USCB to score two runs including a walk-off winner on a wild pitch to give the Sand Sharks their only victory of the series. With his strong defensive ability in left field, the discipline and confidence to draw walks, and the blazing speed between the bases, Meyer should build off last year’s success and become a key piece at the top of the USCB lineup.
Leandy Castro, RF: There’s no question who the biggest star of this team is this season, and it’s senior right fielder Leandy Castro. The veteran came up clutch when his team needed him the most to put his squad in the win column on Saturday. Coming in midway through Game 3 to replace starter and former Beaufort High Eagle Jacob Anderson, Castro made an immediate impact with a line-drive RBI-single to right to tie the contest at 3. One half-inning later, he made the play of the game on the defensive side, firing a strike from shallow right field to gun down Chancery Hall at home plate on an aggressive tag from third. Catcher Kaden Geelen needed a perfect throw in order to retire the runner, and Castro threw a flawless laser to keep the game knotted up and set up the winning rally in the seventh. Leandy has a superb arm and a bat that can catch fire at any time and will be the centerpiece once again of a dangerous Sand Shark offense.
Tucker Perry, RHP: With reliable Eamonn Collins lost to graduation, head coach Ted Falkner eyed Perry as the potential replacement for the team’s closer role. While he didn’t get any save opportunities over the weekend, Perry appeared in two games and came up big both times. The Pawleys Island native shut down the Buffaloes in Friday’s second game, throwing a 1-2-3 seventh with two strikeouts to give his team a chance at a late rally. Then he showed his resilience and mettle in the opening game on Saturday, allowing the go-ahead run after whiffing at an infield chopper and hitting a batter but forcing a groundout to limit the damage and eventually earn the win. Perry was tested in a big way, but the junior reliever dug deep and proved to his coach that he could handle the closer and high-leverage roles.
Brandon Blume, RHP: Falkner turned to Blume to open up the 2022 season on the mound, and his new righty put up a solid start. The East Georgia State transfer made a strong case as a probable weekend starter with an excellent debut performance, throwing 4.2 innings and giving up just two runs while notching five strikeouts. He was able to execute his best stuff when he had the chance to put batters away, but what impressed me the most was his control. Blume faced 19 batters over his first start and didn’t walk a single one. If you can throw strikes and avoid giving away the dreaded free passes, you’re going to find success at the small-college level. He doesn’t have the high velocity that can overpower hitters, but his strength in finding the zone consistently should make him a key component of the Sand Shark rotation.
Scott Matthews, RHP: After sitting out during the 2021 season, Matthews returned to the Richard Gray Stadium mound on Friday and put up a terrific showing. The senior righty proved why he was named to the Sun Conference Preseason Players to Watch List, throwing four strong innings and scattering just three hits with one earned run and two strikeouts. He had faced just 11 batters in two years prior to the weekend, but he has all the tools to become a reliable piece of Falkner’s pitching staff. It’s possible that Matthews could take on setup duties or potentially a closer role in the bullpen, but the Florida product showed his ability as a starter to string together multiple productive innings and give his offense a chance to win games. It was a terrific first act to what could be a big comeback year for the Sand Shark senior.
We didn’t see the number of wins that we were hoping for this weekend, but I’m still very optimistic about the potential of this 2022 team. The talent is certainly there on the pitching side, and despite a few key defensive losses from last year’s squad including shortstop Tavaris Terrell, I was impressed with the effort on all areas of the diamond. Once the bats get going (which I know they will in the coming days and weeks), the Sand Sharks will be a dangerous team to face in the coming weeks and will be a squad that no one will want to play come tournament time. It should be another memorable season of USCB baseball and softball, and you can catch all of the home action on the Sand Shark Gameday Network with myself and Dylan Kerns on the call this spring.
By Wes Kerr