Fort Mill got a second early wake-up call in as many days and got off to a quick start once again in its American Legion baseball state tournament elimination game against Chapin/Newberry on Sunday morning.
Post 43 was hoping for a better result than Saturday, when a three-run first ended in an 11-8 loss to Florence, and an extended stay in its first state tourney since 2001.
Heading to the bottom of the eighth, Fort Mill was firmly in the driver’s seat with an 8-3 lead. Then C/N put up a 5-spot to tie the game, setting up a dramatic ninth that saw Post 43 retake the lead only to see Posts 193/24 rally in its half for two runs and a walk-off 10-9 win.
“It was an absolute roller coaster, ups and downs, but it was kind of crushing after being up so big in those first couple of innings,” said Fort Mill head coach Tom Skula, whose team ended its season with a 14-8 record. “They kept chipping away and then tied it up, and then for us to go back ahead was exciting, then just crushing watching that winning run cross the plate.”
Both starting pitchers went seven innings before being pulled. C/N starter Jordan Beatson ended with a pitch count at 110 while Fort Mill's Noah Griffin closed at 99. Once Griffin came out, it opened the door wide for Posts 193/24 as three Post 43 pitchers took the mound before the frame closed with the lead lost.
Greg Izzo faced the first four of 11 batters to come to the plate, giving up four hits and three runs before Logan Miller surrendered a fielder's choice grounder, RBI single to Price Alexander and walk. The pitching struggles continued with Matt Levy, who gave up an RBI single to Chandler Todd and later walked in the tying run before striking out Ward Hacklin.
Levy reached on an error to open the ninth, took second on a sacrifice bunt from Justin Kerosetz, moved to third on a Zach Evans single and came home on a Miller single to right. The inning ended on a Joey Tepper strikeout with two on.
C/N’s winning rally began with a pair of 1-out walks to Taylor Wiggins and Trey Kinard. Alexander followed with an infield single to load the bases for Preston Farmer, who laced the game-winning single to right-center.
“I’ve been here for three years, and that's probably about the 10th time we've done that,” said C/N head coach David Coats, who was an assistant coach for the 2015 team that won the American Legion World Series. “We end up in a situation to where everybody counts us out, and these kids are tough, they're always tough. They play the game the right way and they love each other and love the game of baseball.”
Fort Mill put up five in the first against C/N, taking advantage of three errors that dealt Beatson a poor hand. Post 43 batted around with two hits -- singles from Logan Miller and Joey Tepper -- one hit batter and two double steals that accounted for two of their five runs. Tepper's single drove in a run and his break for second set up a Miller steal of home.
Fort Mill scratched across single runs in the third and seventh off Beatson, who hit four batters but also struck out five and walked just one while scattering eight hits. The Post 43 lead was 7-2 as Beatson exited.
Fort Mill closed with 10 hits, led by a 3-hit effort from Tepper, who closed with two doubles and two runs scored. Evans reached three times, with two singles and a hit by pitch, driving in one. Hunter Helms also scored twice for Post 43 after reaching on a walk and a single.
Wiggins scored a run in each of the last three innings, including a perfectly executed hit-and-run in the seventh, taking first all three times on two singles and a walk. The game-winning hit topped off a stellar day at the plate for Farmer, who doubled and scored in the third, singled in the fifth, sacrificed in the seventh and walked in the eighth before his ninth-inning heroics.
The loss makes Fort Mill the last to enter the tourney, with a 3-0 play-in win over Greenville, and the first to exit. Still, after facing a draw that included the programs that have won the past two state titles, Skula sees the experience as a positive one for his team.
“It was a very good experience for them,” Skula said. “I think a lot of guys haven't played in a tournament atmosphere like this, outside of travel ball, so I think it was a good atmosphere for them. For our first game with Florence there were a lot of college scouts there, so I think that really helped the kids get motivated to play even harder. For us, just coming here and getting here was an accomplishment in itself.”