The baseball game between rivals Northwestern and Rock Hill on Friday was arguably the biggest in the history of the series that began in 1971.
The stakes were high. The Bearcats and Trojans went into the game, their last of the regular season, tied for second place in Region 3-AAAA with 8-5 records. The winner was assured to finish second and get a first-round playoff game on Thursday.
The loser? That's where it gets complicated. When Friday's games began, Clover, Fort Milll and Lancaster were still in the hunt for the region's other two playoff berths, and a four-way tie would create a situation where head-to-head results were the first tiebreaker. The second was a weighted points system based on wins over region opponents.
Northwestern (11-13) has nothing to worry about. The Trojans wrapped up second place with their 4-2 victory. Rock Hill (13-10), with Fort Mill out of the way after a loss to South Pointe, must wait on the tiebreaker.
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Rock Hill pulled into the tie with the Trojans by winning 5-3 on Wednesday at Northwestern in a make-up game from earlier in the season.
"It's really crazy,'' Northwestern coach Mitch Walters said. "I can't figure it out and one of my assistant coaches had to explain it to me. What I do know is that if we had lost, we would have likely not made the playoffs.''
The game was tight through the first five innings, but this one belonged to Northwestern's T.J. Estes.
Estes moved from right field to the mound with one out in the last of the fifth after the Bearcats had gone ahead 2-1. The runs was charged to starter Chad Smith, who gave up a one-out triple to Rock Hill's No. 9 batter, Brantley Rumford.
The second out was a fly ball to left by Bearcats starting pitcher Casey Seay, deep enough to score Rumford. Estes, who allowed the sacrifice, faced nine batters the rest of the way, giving up one hit, hitting a batter and striking out two.
He doubled Will King home in the third and drew a walk in the top of the seventh that turned into the final run of the game.
"Second place is what we wanted,'' Estes said. "When Rock Hill beat us on Wednesday, it was the worst I've felt all season. I was going to do all I could to not let it happen again.''
Rock Hill scored first, picking up a solo run in the last of the fourth. Bearcats shortstop Seth Neely led off the frame and sent a rocket over the 345-foot sign in left-center.
Northwestern knotted it up with a run in the top of the fifth, but the Bearcats went up 2-1 when Rumford scored in the bottom of the frame.
Seay quickly got into a jam in the top of the sixth. With one out, Justin Boylston and Marvin Seng singled and the bags were full after Dylan Carpenter coaxed a walk.
Rock Hill coach Eddie Hill called timeout and motioned Rainey to the mound. The big right-hander hit Heath Myers on the helmet with his first pitch, forcing Justin Rice, in to run for Boylston, across the plate.
Drew Hardy beat out a slow dribbler to third that pushed Seng to the plate. Rainey got out of the jam with the Bearcats' second double play of the game.
Rock Hill had a chance in the seventh after Logan Cribb ripped a one-out single and Estes plunked Michael Hill. That brought Rumford to the plate, who'd been swinging a hot stick.
He sent a screaming liner to left that was sinking fast after sailing over the infield. Myers raced toward the line and dove, making the catch for the second out as he slid on the dew-covered grass.
"That one falls in and we're tied 4-4,'' Hill said. "But their kid out there made a great play, one of many they made all night. It was easily the play of the game.
"So now we must wait, hope the right things happen and we get in. If York beats Clover (Friday), then Fort Mill on Saturday, we have a good shot.''