Faith Baptist beat Northwestern 8-3 Friday night in the kind of ruthless manner that has helped Gene Reynolds’ teams find annual success in the Wheels baseball tournament in Rock Hill the past couple years.
Faith Baptist - based in Ludowici, Ga., - took advantage of the Trojans’ defensive errors early and often in a win that gives the Crusaders the inside shot at advancing to Saturday afternoon’s championship game.
“We do a good job of keeping pressure on offensively,” said Reynolds. “Always have guys on, hit a lot of balls hard, get down the line hard. If you bobble it or make a mistake, our guys take advantage of that.”
The visitors from Georgia lost their starting pitcher, Shameko Smith, only two outs into the game. But Julio Blanco took his place and pitched well, allowing just one hit in 5.67 innings of relief work.
Still, Northwestern scrapped and competed and had its chances.
“You take away the seven errors and we’re right there,” said Northwestern coach Mitch Walters, who was already making out a lineup for his team’s next game on Monday against Clover. “That’s a quality team. Hopefully we can learn from that.”
Blanco was dealing for Faith Baptist, but he ran into a little trouble in the bottom of the sixth, probably because of fatigue. Trojan senior Cameron Smith drew a two-out walk, followed by a Kirk Clayton single and another walk to Jeff Taylor that loaded the bags.
Blanco walked in a run, the Trojans cutting Faith Baptist’s lead to 7-3. But the Crusaders pitcher got a pop-out to end the inning, the first baseman making a nifty basket catch over his shoulder in foul territory to snuff out the Northwestern threat.
Faith Baptist pitcher Shameko Smith went down with two outs in the bottom of the first. He immediately grabbed the front of his shoulder and Reynolds was concerned that the Crusaders’ ace injured his labrum. He said Smith’s second-to-last pitch was clocked at 92 miles per hour; his final pitch before leaving the game in obvious discomfort was 83 miles per hour.
“We’re a little worried because he’s never had that. We’re hoping it’s just a sprain for his sake,” said Reynolds, who wore a hood under his helmet to keep the encroaching cold out. “That hurt us. He’s been our best guy all year. We’re not really worrying about the game at that point; we’re hoping it’s nothing serious to keep him from going to college next year.”
Reynolds was hoping to save Blanco for Saturday, but the 5-foot-10, 180-pound fireballer came in Friday night and did a fine job. He was clocked - by his teammate standing at the backstop - throwing as hard as 94 miles per hour.
“He gave us a quality outing,” said Reynolds.
“The pitching,” said Walters, “we haven’t seen anything in the 90s like we saw today, and it showed.”
After playing five games total this week, Northwestern’s Wheels tournament is finished. The Trojans were not scheduled to play Saturday morning. Following two days off, Walters’ team is back in action with a Region 3-4A contest Monday against Clover.
Faith Baptist does play Saturday morning at 10 a.m., against Fort Mill. A win would put the Crusaders in the Wheels championship game at 2 p.m.
Faith Baptist 8, Northwestern 3
Faith Baptist;100;420;0- 8;10;2
WP- Julio Blanco; LP- Cameron Smith
Leading hitters: Faith Baptist- Pedro Castellano 2B, RBI; Darwin Santos 2B, 2 RBI; Wicharly Fabian 2 RBI. Northwestern- Cameron Reeves 1-4, 2B, RBI; Kirk Clayton 1-3.
Records: Faith Baptist 25-4; Northwestern 14-4.