A fraction of a second. A fraction of an inch.
That was how close the Fort Mill High School baseball team came to winning its final home game, a winner-take-all showdown against Nation Ford last Friday night that decided the region's final playoff spot.
However, thanks to a two-out, two-RBI single by Falcons shortstop Shell McCain in the seventh inning, it was Nation Ford that rallied to win the game, 7-6, and end the Jackets' postseason hopes.
It was a back-and-forth game - there were two ties and two lead changes in the final four innings - as the two clubs battled to extend their seasons and it was the Jackets who, with a 6-5 lead in the seventh, had back-to-back chances to win the game.
"We started in January and it all came down to this. It's tough when it comes down to the last game and then it's all over," said Fort Mill Head Coach Brad Mercer. "It's unfortunate - it came down to one play, one call."
Nation Ford's Kyle Whitman, with one out in the top of the seventh, hit a grounder to the right side of the infield, setting up the potential game-ending double play. The Fort Mill defense hurried to turn the play, but Whitman was called safe at first just as the ball arrived and the Fort Mill bench, which was ready to explode onto the field, had to wait for one more out.
With runners on second and third, after Whitman stole a base, McCain stepped up to bat and hit a line drive toward Jacket's second baseman Danny Till, who lunged for the ball. It glanced off his glove, sending Falcons players and fans into a frenzy as the two go-ahead runs crossed the plate.
It was also McCain who calmed himself, turned around and pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the seventh, clinching the game and sending the Falcons into the playoffs.
"I was a little bit nervous, but I stayed calm and just tried to hit it right back up the middle," McCain said about his game-winning hit. "That's what I did. I was thinking 'yes, I just did it for my team."
McCain, a sophomore, said it had been a team goal all year to make it to the playoffs in their second season.
"This is the greatest feeling you could have. It's a big accomplishment for us," he said.
Nation Ford had the upper hand on the scoreboard for most of the game, but every time the Falcons pulled ahead, Fort Mill seemed to have an answer.
First baseman Cody Johnson put Nation Ford ahead 3-0 in the third inning with a towering home run to left field, but Fort Mill's Robbie Thompson hit it out of the park in the bottom of the inning to tie the game at three. The two teams traded runs throughout the next three innings, then Thompson, who accounted for five of Fort Mill's six RBIs, appeared to put the Jackets ahead for good with a two-out, two-RBI double in the bottom of the sixth inning.
That set up the drama in the seventh.
"We've counted on our seniors and they've come up big for us all season," Mercer said. "I'm very proud of what they have done for us."
Nation Ford Head Coach Dell Corley said he questioned whether or not he should have pitched to Thompson in the sixth inning, but gave credit to his team for keeping its composure in such an emotional game.
"I can't say enough about these kids. They hung in there and did exactly what I asked - they did a great job," Corley said.
The Falcons used a 5-0 performance in the Mingo Bay Tournament in Myrtle Beach last week to propel them through their final week of regular season games, and, as Corley hopes, deep into the playoffs.
"We started peaking at the right time. Now our goal is to take it one game at a time and hopefully win as many ballgames as we can," Corley said. "We have a young ball club. It's great that they will get a taste of the playoffs."
The Falcons improved to 13-10 on the season and finished region play at 4-6.
The playoffs begin Thursday, when Nation Ford visits Ridge View.