Eight errors condemned Northwestern to a 6-1 loss to Sumter in the opening game of the Class AAAA baseball state championship series Monday night.
The Trojans actually outhit the visiting Fighting Gamecocks 5-4, but couldn’t overcome a slew of defensive miscues and unearned runs. Northwestern coach Mitch Walters’ assessment of his team’s performance left no guesswork as to how he felt.
“That’s probably the worst game we’ve played this year and you can’t play like that against a team as good as Sumter,” he said afterward. “That’s just one game; we’ve got to play one more Wednesday, that’s the most important one. Hopefully we show up and make the routine plays.”
Doing that proved to be a struggle Monday night. In weather that felt like the Major League postseason and surrounded by a huge crowd, the Trojans struggled to shake the jitters. Sumter coach Brooks Shumake almost appeared to sympathize with the hosts after their poor defensive outing.
“It’s a state championship game, but then again it’s another baseball game,” said Shumake, who led Sumter to state titles in 2006 and 2011. “They work hard and we work hard, and sometimes you don’t get the right bounces and you don’t make plays. It could happen to any team, but I was very thankful that we capitalized on the mistakes they made.”
Sumter hadn’t lost since March 28, a stretch of 19 games unbeaten and showed the ruthless streak befitting such a team. Starting pitcher Charlie Barnes, a Clemson signee, struck out nine batters in a five-hit, one-run complete game. The thin, 6-foot-2 lefty struck out Northwestern leadoff hitting dynamo Dupree Hart twice — the junior had struck out twice all season coming into Monday’s game — and he kept the Trojans guessing much of the night, fanning more than a few batters who looked at called third strikes.
“Barnes is a great pitcher, and we knew that going in,” said Walters. “He doesn’t throw, he pitches.”
Northwestern stranded a pair of runners in each of the first two innings. Each team scored in the third before Sumter took the lead for good in the top of the fourth. A throwing error led to Jordan Holladay’s RBI sacrifice fly and a 2-1 Gamecocks’ advantage.
Barnes then retired the Trojans in order, before Northwestern starter Eric Taylor did the same in the top of the fifth. Taylor, the junior committed to Furman, was one of the immediate victims of the Trojan defensive lapses. He limited Sumter to just three hits and two unearned runs in just over five innings, before making way for Stuart Hodge.
Taylor got the hook after walking the first two batters in the top of the sixth. Another Northwestern error put Philip Watcher on, loading the bases with no outs. A crucial error from the left side of the infield scored two Sumter runs to make it 4-1 to the visitors.
Barnes piled the pressure on the hosts by striking out the side in the bottom of the sixth. Northwestern again erred in the field in the top of the seventh and Javon Martin made the Trojans pay with a two-run single to make it 6-1. As quiet as the stunned home crowd was, the Trojans’ composite bats were even quieter in the critical bottom half of the seventh. Three straight outs ended the game and sent the Sumter Fighting Gamecocks to their activity bus knowing they could win the state championship at home on Wednesday.
Sumter 6, Northwestern 1
WP- Charlie Barnes; LP- Eric Taylor; Hitting: Sumter- Javon Martin 1-3, 2 RBI, BB; Jordan Holladay 1-1, RBI sac fly. Northwestern- Josh Crump 1-2; Colton Pagoota 1-3, RBI.
Records: Sumter 27-2-1; Northwestern 26-4.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T