Blythewood takes game one of state final in extra innings

Blythewood players celebrate after Zach Bailes’ walkoff RBI infield single in the bottom ninth. Thomas Grant Jr. photos.

The loud sounds of thunder reverberated at Blythewood High School baseball stadium Saturday during extra innings Game 1 of the S.C. High School League Class 5A final.

Before the arriving storm, Zach Bailes calmly hit a walkoff RBI infield single in the Bottom ninth to lift the host team Bengals to a 2-1 win over Dutch Fork.

The game-winner came after another infield single extended the inning. After Mike Gregory singled with two outs off reliever Andrew Fulmer and stole second base, Blythewood’s Josh Crown hit a groundball to Crosby Jones at shortstop and Dutch Fork believed he was thrown out at first base.

To the Dutch Fork players’ disgust, Crown was ruled safe by both umpires. Bailes then hit a groundball towards second base that the Silver Foxes were unable to cleanly field for the force out that allowed Gregory to race home for the win.

“That’s baseball,” Dutch Fork head coach Casey Waites said. “Both teams battled for nine innings. “We had a chance first, but didn’t scratch. But, at the same time, they played small ball to move some runners from the middle and we found a way to get them out. At the end, we have a play. It’s a base hit and we had some athletes that almost made a play.”

Dutch Fork opened the game by loading the bases on starting pitcher Landon Lucas. He settled in, struck out the next two batters and got a groundout to end the threat.

Leading off the bottom first, Lucas put Blythewood on the board with a solo home run over the leftfield wall off Dutch Fork starter Sam Hatcher. The Dutch Fork lefthander did not allow a run over the next seven innings before he was pulled to start the ninth inning for Fulmer.

The Silver Foxes (22-11) tied the game in the Top second on an RBI sacrifice fly by Jay Metts. Lucas then retired 18 consecutive batters and finished with four strikeouts before he was relieved with one out in the eighth by Crown.

Crown finished with two strikeouts in one and two-thirds innings, the lone baserunner coming via catcher’s interference.

Blythewood head coach Banks Faulkner.

Blythewood (26-8) can claim its first state title with a win Tuesday in Irmo. For head coach Banks Faulkner, it would be his fourth overall and second as a head coach. He won a Class 4A title as a player 20 years ago (ironically beating Blythewood) and as an assistant coach in 2013 at alma mater Lexington High School and led Summerville to the same title in 2016.

“I’ve been lucky to be a part of four of them and the thing that I do see is this group is incredibly close,” he said. “They love each other. They play for each other. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to win as a team. So yeah, I definitely see a lot of similarities as far their closeness and their love for each other.”

At the same time, Faulkner knows from Dutch Fork’s recent history in the Lower State final its ability to win two straight games.

“We like our position, but we know that we’re going into a hornet’s nest on Tuesday night against a really good team,” he said. “We’ll face a really, really good arm. We’ve got our work cut out for us. I know that team over there is a really good team and they’ll continue to fight.”

Categories: Blythewood, Irmo, Lexington County, Richland County, Sports