The Dutch Fork Silver Foxes are champions in high school baseball for the first time in school history. Friday night at Segra Park, it was Dutch Fork defeating the Blythewood Bengals 2-1 and winning the best of three series by the same number, to take the 5A state baseball title. After the Bengals took game one in a thrilling one run, nine-inning game, in walk off fashion, the Silver Foxes took the next two – winning Tuesday 6-1 and back on Friday. It was the first appearance for DF since 2002, while Blythewood last played for a championship in 2013.
The atmosphere was electric and exactly what you’d expect in a winner take all scenario involving two area sports teams. Fans from not just Blythewood and Dutch Fork showed up but the Columbia, Lexington and Irmo areas.
And sometimes in baseball, when you have top D-1 prospects on display and featured, it’s the least likely of names to shine through and be crucial to the winning side. That was the case in this series as junior Sam Hatcher pitched brilliantly in relief of Doug Webb to seal the win. After a two-out double off the wall by Citadel commit John Lanier (that nearly left the fence) the Bengals had a chance to tie. With a runner at second, Sam Hatcher struck out Michael Gregory on an off speed 2-2 pitch to end the game, giving Dutch Fork the championship.
In the game one loss, Hatcher did his part, going eight strong innings, and getting the no decision with the only run given up being a first inning solo shot by Landon Lucas. On Friday however, Sam was crafty getting batters out with his changeup and spotting pitches at just the right place in the strike zone. He came in at a crucial time, too. With two runners on in the fifth, Hatcher shut it down and continued to stifle Blythewood hitters who managed less than 20 hits in the series.
Overall Hatcher gave up eight of those hits in 10-and-one-third innings pitched. Coach Casey Waites on his junior hurler: “He’s got ice in his veins, he doesn’t try to overpower people. He throws his curveball, change-up and a couple fastballs. Awesome job. Twenty-five guys that hung in there and won a state title,” he said.
On offense, its was another least likely star for the Silver Foxes. Instead of Clemson commit Ty Olenchuck doing the damage at the plate, it was Noah Jackson and Crosby Jones. Jackson had three big hits in the series while Jones would bring his teammate home in the fourth to make it a 2-1 game and break the tie.
The Silver Foxes proved to be battle tested and had one of the more improbable runs we have ever seen in the high school baseball playoffs. The Silver Foxes won six road games (not including Friday) and six elimination games, just to win the title. Led by Hatcher and his 10-plus innings, Doug Webb (Friday) and Olenchuck (Tuesday), Dutch Fork pitchers held Blythewood to just four total runs in three games.
What’s interesting about these two teams is the experience leaving, but also what’s coming back. Eleven seniors for Dutch Fork end their baseball careers with a trophy while Blythewood’s nine will go home wondering what could have been. But there is hope, the Bengals return College of Charleston commit, and stud Landon Lucas while future Clemson Tiger, Ty Olenchuck, returns for the Silver Foxes. Both are fantastic two-way players, pitching and hitting. Some coaches I’ve talked too argue they are 1A and 1B in the state.
It was a tough outing for Blythewood. Coach Banks Faulkner thinks the Bengals can rebound in the future from this experience. “We fought to the last out and couldn’t be prouder of them. Sometimes the game is cruel and this one is going to take a while. We got this program back where we they think it should be. We are going to win a state championship at Blythewood and when we do it is because of these guys,” he said.
WP: Doug Webb. LP: Landon Lucas. S: Sam Hatcher. Hitters: Dutch Fork: Noah Jackson 2-3 K, Crosby Jones 1-2 RBI HBP. Blythewood: John Lanier 2-4 K; Harrison Lamber 2-3 R