Much like St. James’ three Lower State tournament games, the Sharks prevented opponents who took early leads from blowing games wide open.
In the Class AAA finals against Belton-Honea Path, Robbie Centracchio’s team finally failed to rebound and get that walk-off at-bat in the final inning.
The Bears struck first in the best-of-three series with 1-0 win that featured stellar pitching performances from BHP junior Griffin Jester and St. James’ Anthony Peck. And as it turned out, it was the first batter of the game - not the last - that helped produce the winning run.
“I expected that from our side, the way Anthony’s been pitching,” Centracchio said of Peck’s complete-game seven-hitter. “You get scouting reports, but you just don’t know what you’re going to see. [Jester] pitched a great game. He changed speeds well. He kept us from barreling some balls up.
“We just didn’t get that hit we needed. I think we were there. We had a lot of chances. We just didn’t put it together.”
Jester was staked a lead before he ever took the mound. The Bears got on the board in the first after lead-off hitter Chase Coker lined the first pitch of the game into left field. A sacrifice bunt and fly ball moved him to third. Clemson signee Blake Holliday’s two-out double to right brought him across.
From there, Belton-Honea Path coach Steve Williams watched as his offense struggled to fulfill its opportunities. The Bears left eight men on base, and all of those were in scoring position.
Peck continued to work out of minor jams. He got the Bears to pop up twice, ground into a double play, recorded a strikeout and got a line out to leave all those BHP runners on base.
“I hope that we could go on the road and play good baseball,” Williams said. “I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t pick up another run or two early. Peck was really good. He kept throwing the off-speed and we just kept missing it. But Jester made every pitch he needed to.”
And he made sure all those stranded runners didn’t matter.
“We were just trying to play fundamental baseball, go out there and do the best we can,” Jester said. “I expected us to get a little more runs. … You’ve got to tell yourself that you need to keep going out there and keep getting guys out.”
He continued to do that throughout.
The Sharks put up only five hits against him, and they left six runners of their own on base. It equated to Peck’s first loss of the year after nine consecutive wins in his decisions. The sophomore with the ERA slightly north of 1.04 certainly didn’t have a bad game; it was just that Peck’s was better.
“They showed up to play and did what they were supposed to do,” Peck said. “They shut us down. That’s baseball. Hopefully we can go to their field and do the same thing to them.”
In order to push the series to a winner-take-all game three in Columbia on Monday, the Sharks (23-8) will need to win on Saturday in Honea Path as the defending state champs try to repeat on their home turf.
There, St. James will likely face one of the Bears’ top two pitchers, either the Clemson signee Holliday or Austin Todd, who is committed to The Citadel. After Jester’s performance in the opener, Centracchio said he expects nothing less than another potential gem from a staff that just delivered with its No. 3 pitcher.
“At this level, everyone’s gonna be good, whether it’s the three or not,” Centracchio said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the state. They won it last year for a reason. I knew they had good arms. I knew this was going to be a battle.”
▪ W: Griffin Jester L: Anthony Peck Top hitters:BHP: Blake Holliday 1-3, 2B, RBI; Chase Coker 2-4, Run. STJ: Anthony Peck 2-3; Jordan Fields 1-2, BB, SB..
▪ Records: Belton-Honea Path 27-4; St. James 23-8.