About 50 weeks ago, the Aynor softball team celebrated its Class AA state championship with a lot of help from two of the best seniors in South Carolina.
Despite those impending departures, assistant-turned-head coach Tony Mills wasn’t expecting a big drop off overall.
“I felt good last year after the season was over,” Mills said. “I knew the players we had returning. You don’t replace players like Hannah Seaver and Shelby Cox. They played their best ball on the biggest stage. … But we have three seniors on this year’s team.”
That only tells part of the story.
Behind a top-to-bottom effort through the lineup, the Blue Jackets defeated top-seeded Barnwell 4-1 at home on Wednesday to win the District V tournament and advance to the Class AA Lower State tournament for the second consecutive year.
Aynor’s offense was largely spurred by the team’s six, seven, eight and nine batters, as Morgan Richardson, Taylor Charlton, Layna Johnson and Blair Gasque, respectively, were responsible for five of the team’s eight hits and half the run production.
In the bottom of the fourth, Charlton, Johnson and Gasque started the frame with a double, triple and single that gave Aynor a cushion and allowed it to cruise to the win, especially with Johnson striking out 10 Barnwell hitters and allowing only five hits.
“It shows that we still have the talent, that we can still do it,” Johnson said before saying that she had no doubt that a return trip to the Lower State tournament was possible. “We just lost two games against Dillon. It ain’t nothing. We’ve still got a chance. It ain’t over.”
It most definitely isn’t, and after his team dispatched the Warhorses on Wednesday, Mills was able to give his team a off day Thursday before it resumes its routine Friday. Despite those two crucial losses to the Wildcats that prevented Aynor from earning Region VIII-AA’s No. 1 postseason seed, it’s season will continue into the second tier of the playoffs once again.
The Blue Jackets (16-2) will again be on near-equal footing for the Lower State tournament, which begins with a road game at Battery Creek on Saturday.
Win there, and it’s another road game in the second round. That’s not bothersome for Mills after what he’s seen out of this year’s squad.
“We lost one at home and one at a neutral site, so I’m not so sure we shouldn’t travel for every game,” Mills said. “I think that’s a sign of a little bit better team. They get serious; they’re aren’t distractions.”
▪ W: Layna Johnson L: Kelci Brown Top hitters: Barnwell: Kyra Shuler 1-3, 3B; Kiley Bridgmon 2-3. Aynor: Taylor Charlton 2-3, 2B; Layna Johnson 1-3, 3B, RBI, Run; Blair Gasque 1-3, RBI; Felicia Tracy 0-3, 2 RBI..
▪ Records: Barnwell 17-7; Aynor 16-2.