COLUMBIA — A hail storm Friday night extended the Loris baseball team’s season, but it only delayed the feared disappointing ending.
Ninety Six held a 6-3 lead in the fourth inning when the final game of the S.C. Class AA state championship series was suspended Friday because of the weather and unplayable field conditions at Spring Valley High, and the Wildcats completed an 8-4 win Tuesday the school.
The Lions prided themselves on solid fundamentals and execution throughout the season, but made a combined eight errors in losing the final two games of the series.
“It’s really disappointing,” said senior catcher Tanner Cox. “It’s probably the worst baseball we’ve played since the middle of the season. I thought we had all that out, but they beat us fair and square.”
The Lions (20-11) had more than three days to mull the likelihood that they would fall short in the championship series, so the final outcome wasn’t as emotional as it might have been, as the Lions reluctantly settled for arguably the best season in school history.
“It’s awesome to come [to the state championship] with all your best friends, your family,” Cox said. “Of course you wish you could bring it home, but it’s a great experience to do that with your family.”
As expected, Loris’ third-game starter Tanner Chock returned to the mound and Ninety Six replaced starter Isaiah Furqueron with junior ace and Game 2 winner Jacob Childress, who had the benefit of five days of rest because of the game’s suspension.
“I wanted the ball Friday night when we got to the fourth inning,” Childress said. “I knew I had three innings left and I wanted it. Then the rain delay happened and everything just kind of fell into place and I got the chance today to finish it out. That was really good.”
Ninety Six (20-10) needed only a few minutes Tuesday to extend its lead to five runs.
The game resumed with Wildcat runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the fourth inning, and baserunners Reid Slack and Isaiah Furqueron stole second and third without a throw on Chock’s first pitch.
Slack scored on a sacrifice fly by Spencer Williams and Furqueron scored on a single by Josh Chaney, as the Wildcats completed a carried-over four-run inning. It had plated four in the first inning Friday.
Loris made the score 8-4 with a run in the top of the sixth as Chock was hit by a pitch, courtesy runner Dez Dozier stole third with two outs and scored when catcher Joseph Chaney’s errant throw sailed into left field.
Ninety Six loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth on a pair of walks and a double, but Chock recorded a pair of strikeouts and enticed a popup to keep the deficit at four runs entering the seventh inning.
Loris pinch hitter Junior Long reached on a one-out error in the seventh inning for the third baserunner against Childress on Tuesday, but a fielder’s choice accounted for the second out and Childress snagged a line drive by Ryan Bellamy to end the game and clinch the title for Ninety Six.
Childress slammed the ball to the ground, threw his glove toward his dugout and jumped on his catcher in celebration, “then I was at the bottom of the dog pile,” said Childress, who capped a family lineage in the state championship as his brother, James, lost in consecutive games to Bishop England in the 2006 championship series as a member of Emerald High’s baseball team.
“I dreamed about this my entire life, winning a state championship,” Childress added. “I saw my brother play in one and they fell short. … It’s was just so surreal when we finally won it and somebody in the family became a state champion. It’s just great.”
Chock (11-2), whose earned-run average entering the game was barely 0.50, gave up nine hits, five walks and two earned runs while striking out four in the final contest.
“On Friday, he had been pitched so much and his arm was a little weak,” said Cox, who caught for Chock in the series. “His fastball wasn’t popping like it normally is, so he had to kind of resort to his cutter and other pitches like that, which isn’t his game. That’s where it kind of started and they got a few hits.
“You can see by the scoreboard, they had two four-run innings, so they were stringing stuff together. We weren’t closing innings out.”
Four Loris errors contributed to six unearned runs in the final game, including the two runs in the bottom of the fourth Tuesday. The Wildcats forced Loris to make plays, striking out just five times in the final two games. “You can’t just make errors without them hitting the ball,” Cox said. “They put it in play and did what they were supposed to do, we just didn’t execute like we should have.”
Ninety Six, which won its first baseball title and hadn’t been to the state championship series since 1963, showed resilience after losing the first game of the series 2-1 in nine innings at Loris, with the winning run scoring on a wild pitch.
“We pushed through it in the last two games,” Childress said. “Our devotions all week were about hope and believing, and we just kept hoping and believing and we finally pushed it out in the last two games. None of us had doubt.”
Loris will lose at least its eight graduating seniors off this year’s team.
“We had a good run,” Loris coach Keith Daniels said. “You always come into the season with the goal of getting to the state championship and it doesn’t always happen. It just so happened that the stars aligned for us and we got to the state championship series, and we ran into a team that was good and played the same type of baseball we did, they just played better than us in the last two games.”
Loris played for the state championship in 2001 and was swept by Chapin, so the 2014 Lions are the first baseball team in school history to win a state championship series game.
Tuesday’s loss completes Daniels’ fifth season overseeing the program. When he took over, Loris had won four games in the previous two years combined and hadn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2007.
Daniels credits cooperation from school administrators by offering an elective baseball physical education class to contributing to the rise of the baseball program. He said it’s similar to classes offered at St. James, Socastee and Carolina Forest high schools.
“I started with the kids that are graduating this year and built it up to what it is right now,” Daniels said. “They’ve worked their tails off to get where they are. … They’ve put their time in, it’s just unfortunate that it came up short in the championship series.”
• W: Isaiah Furqueron. L: Tanner Chock (11-2). Top hitters: . Loris: Ryan Bellamy 2-3 run, Chock 1-2 2B, Stacy Dozier 1-2 2B, Dez Dozier 2runs. Ninety Six: Jacob Childress 3-3 2runs 2SB, Joseph Chaney 3-3 2B 2RBI run, Furqueron 2runs, Spencer Williams 1-3 2B 2RBI, Josh Chaney 1-3 RBI, Bryce Bearden 1-3 RBI.
• Records: Loris 20-11, Ninety Six 20-10.