York’s bats were popping, sun-splashed fans were cheering in the burger-smelling air and the plush python was swinging in the Cougars’ dugout, all good signs.
That last observation clearly needs an explanation, so here it goes: York players bought a stuffed animal python and cowboy hats off Amazon for the Cougars’ 4A baseball state playoff opener Wednesday night. Eddie Tisdale’s team hosted Travelers Rest (12-12) and used a big fourth inning – when the players in the dugout started swinging the lime green python like a lasso – to win 6-0 and advance to a Thursday night game at No. 1 seed Greenville.
It was a fun evening for the Cougars (14-9), who have the best baseball facility in The Herald’s coverage area. Tisdale, the former Winthrop player, is glad that the product on the emerald green field is beginning to match its surroundings and the strong community support.
“I can’t say enough about it,” said Tisdale, shouting out his assistant coaches for maintaining the diamond and the school’s administration for supporting his ideas. “It’s them as much as me buying in and saying ‘we want our kids to have a really first rate opportunity to play in a great facility at the high school level.’ But getting these big games is huge for us. Hopefully this is the first of many to come.”
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Austin Devinney led off York's pivotal fourth frame with a single up the middle and Hunter Parks followed with another shot in the same spot, only this one tagged Travelers Rest pitcher Caleb Wright in the wrist.
He didn't leave the game until later - because of the sore wrist - and it's hard to say if that had an impact on what happened immediately after. Also a likely impact, York had seen Wright several times through the lineup.
Anyway, Peyton Stephenson (2-3, two RBI and a double) stroked a double that scored a run, before Seth Wood poked an RBI single over the vertically stretched second baseman. Two errors by the visitors helped produce three more runs in the frame, including a Drew Carroll RBI single, for a 5-0 lead.
York stayed patient and took advantage of Travelers Rest’s mistakes in the fourth inning to take control of the game. It would have been easy for the Cougars to lock up with nerves in the program’s first home playoff game in six years, but the group stayed focused and pounced when Wright’s velocity dropped a bit in the fourth.
Gathered afterward, York’s players – donning their black suede cowboy hats with the fake snake draped around their shoulders – looked like a bunch of sleazy pro wrestlers from 1985. Pitcher Dylan Smoak – a left-handed ninth grader that tossed a complete game shutout for the Cougars Wednesday – looked like a senior.
“He’s definitely earned the right to get a first round playoff start,” Tisdale said. “He’s got good stuff, good composure. Watch him pitch and you don’t think he’s a freshman.”
Smoak allowed just four hits and struck out the side in the seventh for an impressive crescendo.
Smoak’s complete game also saved his teammates’ arms, critical given the new pitch count rules. The Cougars will travel to Greenville on Thursday for a 6:30 game against the district’s No. 1 seed, which beat South Aiken on Tuesday night.