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Wild pitch sinks Northwestern

The Byrnes Rebels scored a run on a wild pitch and that was all they needed to beat Northwestern, 1-0, on Saturday afternoon in the first round of the Upper State playoffs.

Northwestern (18-10) will play a do-or-die game at 6 p.m. on Monday at home against Rock Hill.

Byrnes (19-9) will remain at home on Monday and host Blythewood.

Rebels' sophomore Stephen Duggar scored in the third inning when Trojans' starting pitcher Zach Watts (3-2) bounced a pitch in the dirt that got away from backstop Chris Hyatt. The pitch bounced high in the air off Hyatt's protective gear and landed 10 to 12 feet to the catcher's left side.

The split-second required for Hyatt to locate the ball was plenty of time for Duggar. He took off from third base and scored easily.

Northwestern could have closed out the inning earlier by turning a double play on Duggar's infield chopper to the right side. Trojans second baseman Stewart Hunt waited for the second hop and then seemed to have trouble getting the ball out of his glove to make the pivot and throw to shortstop Chad Smith at the bag. Hunt got the lead runner, but the throw to first was late.

Reid Rohlman and Johnny Ponder followed with infield singles to load the bases to set the stage for Duggar to score the game-winning run.

Watts pitched a complete-game, three-hitter. He walked four and struck out one.

"Zach pitched very well. He needed that," Northwestern coach Mitch Walters said. "He hasn't pitched that well in a while. Two of the three hits were infield hits that were defensive miscommunication plays."

Northwestern got four hits off Rebels' starter Zack Bridgeman (6-3). The Trojans didn't get a runner beyond first base until the fifth. Chapman Gardiner lined a hit to center and would move to second and third on sacrifice bunts. Taylor Norris popped out to end the inning.

The Trojans best chance to score came in the sixth off reliever Alex Cunningham.

Heath Myers connected on Cunningham's first pitch for a single. Smith followed with another single to put runners at first and second with no outs. Then Will Stephenson ripped a single up the middle.

Myers checked with Walters, coaching at third base, and was waved home. Duggar, playing center field, came up with the ball cleanly and fired home. Duggar's one-hop throw was on line to his catcher Andrew Celveland to nab Myers three strides short of the plate.

Watts grounded out and Justin Worley struck out as the Trojans came up dry.

Duggar wasn't surprised the Trojans tried to get the run across in that situation.

"We had a scouting report saying Northwestern was quick," he said. "I saw the runner was rounding third. Andrew caught the throw and just stood there waiting for the runner. It was a great game all around. I hope we can keep doing what we're doing."

Walters thought it was a good gamble to try to get the run in that situation.

"We got a good hit, the ball was hit to the center fielder's left," Walters explained.

"He made a great throw. If I knew what I know now, I wouldn't have sent him. We played good, they played good. This was a great high school baseball game."

Stephenson finished 3-for-3 and continued his torrid postseason at the plate. He is 9-for-16 in five playoff games.

The upper state playoffs follow the same double-elimination format as the recently-completed district brackets. Northwestern won their first two games in District III to earn home field advantage and some extra days off. The Trojans then beat Easley in the second of two games to advance. Saturday's loss means the team must win four straight games to become upper state champion.

At Byrnes

BYRNES 1

NORTHWESTERN 0

Northwestern

000

000

0

--

0

7

1

Byrnes

001

000

x

--

1

3

0

Zach Watts and Chris Hyatt. Zack Bridgeman, Alex Cunningham (6) and Andrew Cleveland. W -- Bridgeman (6-3). L -- Watts (3-2).

Leading hitters: Northwestern -- Will Stephenson 3-3.

Records: Northwestern 18-10; Byrnes 19-9

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