T.L. Hanna was picked to finish third in Region 1-4A this season before pulling out a region championship. The Yellow Jackets were predicted to be Class AAAA, District I runners-up.
Even after Hanna stayed in the winner’s bracket and, setting up the district final at home and needing just one win, doubters still probably felt comfortable.
It was going according to plan when Brandon Fite sent Nation Ford to a 5-3 win Wednesday with a three-run home run in Game 1. But Hanna had ace Adam Hill in its back pocket.
The junior threw six innings of two-run ball before handing it off to Austin Copeland, who overcame early troubles to earn a save in a 4-2 victory and secure what no one thought they could.
“We were the only ones who believed and that’s all that matters,” Hill said.
Hanna (19-9) will travel to Fort Mill for the first round of the Upper State tournament.
Its journey there didn’t lack any drama.
Nation Ford (17-10) battled back from a three-run deficit behind homers from Fite and Clay Hunt in the first game.
Once Hill took the mound, however, the momentum shifted back in Hanna’s favor. He didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning and was staked to 4-0 lead in the first five innings.
“I knew we were going to win. We’ve been resilient all year,” Hill said. “We’ve always been in tough spots but we’ve always found a way to get back and win it.”
Hanna scratched across unearned runs in the second and fourth on Samuel Reinert and Chase Kinsey RBI singles. In the fifth, the Yellow Jackets strung together five base hits for two more runs.
That appeared to be enough for Hill before he was saddled with two unearned runs in the sixth and exited.
The Hanna defense picked right up where it left off in the seventh with Copeland. A routine ground ball was thrown away and was followed by a Fite single before a passed ball put the tying runs in scoring position.
As much as Hanna coach Daniel Crenshaw would have loved to have scored 10 runs in the game, winning close games has been a part of the club’s DNA this season.
“That’s just the mindset of our program. That’s why they’ve worked so hard in the offseason,” Crenshaw said. “I challenged these guys this year. I tried to make it inconvenient on people and I wanted to see who wanted to be here. I wanted to see who would compete. When we got in those situations tonight I had my guys who wanted to be there executing for us.”
One of those guys was Copeland.
“The adrenaline is pumping in that situation,” Copeland said. “I had pitched well in the first game was feeling pretty good.”
He answered the bell by striking out Hunt, inducing a groundout from Dalton Helms and fanning Cole Avery to incite a celebration at the mound.
It was a dog pile that wasn’t supposed to happen. And perhaps it won’t be the last one.