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In small town, grief is shared by all

The small South Carolina town of Prosperity - located in Newberry County - is a place where everyone knows each other and when a death occurs, particularly to a promising young person, the community mourns as one.

Winthrop senior Robert Lake, a pitcher on the Eagles' baseball team, is from Prosperity. He was one of many who waited outside McSwain-Evans Funeral home in Newberry on Tuesday evening to take part in the visitation for a friend.

Will Bedenbaugh, 19, was killed early Sunday after his car ran off a road in Newberry County. An autopsy showed the Bedenbaugh died instantly from severe trauma.

Bedenbaugh, like Lake, was a baseball player. The two played together for Mid-Carolina High School. Lake graduated two years ahead of Bedenbaugh and left for Winthrop. Bedenbaugh developed into a solid high school catcher. He appeared in 10 games in 2010 as a freshman playing for Charleston Southern before an injury ended his season prematurely.

Lake said Wednesday morning, by phone, he spent time with Bedenbaugh in April of this year when Winthrop played a Big South Conference baseball series at Charleston Southern. Bedenbaugh's season was already finished due to injury, but the two hung out in the outfield for about 30 minutes before a game one day catching up on each others lives.

"He was real excited about the prospect of playing this year," Lake said. "He said he was competing for a starting spot."

Lake spent the summer in Florida ball. He didn't see Bedenbaugh again. The funeral was Wednesday afternoon at the Zion United Methodist Church in Prosperity.

The town of scantly more than a thousand folks has been stunned by the news. The high school postponed a basketball game. Counselors and pastors were sent to the school to talk to students in need.

"Prosperity is what you think of with the 'Andy Griffith Show' It's a one stop-light town," Lake said. "Everyone knows everyone. Everybody knew him and his family. There were so many people at the funeral home (Tuesday)."

And, because of that closeness, Lake learned quickly of Bedenbaugh's death. He got a call early Sunday from a friend who works in the emergency room at Newberry County Memorial Hospital.

Charleston Southern's baseball team is having an incredibly tough time this week. Buccaneers' coach Stuart Lake - a distant relative to Robert - is also from Prosperity.

"Charleston Southern University and especially our CSU Baseball family are very saddened by the loss of Will Bedenbaugh," Stuart Lake said on the school's athletic website. "Will was a very special person to his teammates and coaches. We will honor Will throughout this 2011 season and in the future. He will forever be a part of CSU Baseball."

Winthrop baseball coach Tom Riginos sympathizes with Stuart Lake and Charleston Southern. Riginos has comforted players who have lost mothers and fathers. He knows this is a tough situation for a coach.

"When you lose one of your teammates, it has to be devastating," Riginos said.

Bedenbaugh is survived by his parents and his twin brother, Alex; a baseball player at Brevard College.