Every American Legion state championship is different, Florence Post 1 head coach Derick Urquhart said, but Wednesday's 4-0 triumph over Rock Hill was definitely the hardest.
After committing eight errors in a loss to Post 34 on Monday, Florence was faced with the task of having to win three games — including two on Wednesday — in order to repeat as state champions.
Post 1 answered the challenge.
After getting a complete-game one-hitter from Blake Robinson in the 6-0 opening win against Inman Wednesday, the pitching mojo carried over into the title game rematch against Rock Hill. Josh Price and Brent Herlong combined to toss another shutout, and this time the defense played flawlessly to give Florence its fourth state crown in the last six years.
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Post 1, now 38-2 on the year, advances to the Southeast Regional in Asheboro, N.C., where it will take on the Kentucky state champion at 12:30 p.m. next Wednesday.
"It was obviously going to be hard to win back-to-back games," Price said. "But Blake pitched a great game and managed to go all nine. Then I came in and probably had the start of my life. It was just really good."
"We got a base hit here and there, but we couldn't string a few together," said Rock Hill coach Jeremy McCoy. "With a guy like that on the mound, you have to try to get to him and do a few things. If you string a few hits together, it's a different ballgame, but like I said you have to tip your cap to (Price). He's probably the best arm that we've seen to date."
Florence only needed Herlong, who retired all four batters he faced, including a 1-2-3 ninth inning to set off the celebratory dogpile.
Post 1's offense was both opportunistic and clutch against Rock Hill. Three of the four runs were scored with two outs, and the first one came on an aggressive running play by rightfielder JD Munford.
Munford led off the second with a single and moved to second on Benj Jones' base hit. Paul then hit a sharp grounder up the middle that was picked up by Post 34 second baseman Brock Rodgers, but he stepped on the bag too late to get Jones.
Meanwhile Munford took off for home while the RH players were still reacting to the safe call and easily beat the throw to make it 1-0.
Post 1 then tacked on single runs in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings. Moore had an RBI single in the fifth to drive in Will Hardee with two outs and Jon Mitchell Carter did him one better by collecting two RBI singles — also each with two outs.
It was more than enough as Rock Hill had no answer for Price. Post 34, which finished the year 20-3, had just one inning in which it had more than one hit and was unable to scratch across a run in that inning either.
Trailing 2-0, Brandon Banks led off the bottom of the fifth with a single and took second on a wild pitch. With two outs, Daniel Lipe hit a solid single to the outfield, but Banks was held up at third. He was stranded there as the next batter struck out. No other Rock Hill batter made it past second.
Lipe finished with two hits to lead Rock Hill.
"My third base coach Stewart Hunt has done a fantastic job all season long," McCoy said. "I trust him. He had a thought to hold him up. We had our catcher running, who doesn't necessarily run that well, so hopefully you hold him there and you've still got runners on and maybe you get something else.
"It could have been a momentum swing, but you also can't play 'what-ifs.' "
The offensive frustration boiled over for Rock Hill in the eighth inning. A called second strike didn't sit well with first baseman Cameron Smith, who briefly exchanged words with home plate umpire John Puma before stepping out of the box to regroup. Puma went to clean the plate and Smith came back and apparently said too much as Puma tossed him from the game. An emotional Smith had to be held back before leaving the field.
"I think that was just building over the game," McCoy said. "When you have a guy throwing that well, you start to get a little frustrated. It's a big game, and for some guys, this is the last time they'll play American Legion baseball or baseball period. You let your emotions get the best of you and maybe see something that necessarily didn't happen or whatever, but it's baseball. This game is played with emotion and I don't fault anybody involved.
"It happens. It's baseball."