There’s a charm to playing at Shark Park, and St. James players certainly aren’t shy when speaking about it.
Following yet another dramatic win in the Lower State AAA baseball tournament, its opponents may find it hard to disagree.
A magical three-game run was punctuated Monday night with its crowning achievement, as Grayson Stoneking delivered in a two-out RBI in the bottom of the 12th inning to give the Sharks a 4-3 win over Airport.
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With the victory, St. James earned its first Lower State AAA title since 2011 – a march that ended with a state title. It will host Belton-Honea Path on Thursday in Game 1 of the Class AAA championship series.
“On so many plays, both teams had chances to win the game,” said St. James baseball coach Robbie Centracchio. “... We just battled. They were going to walk him in one time too many, and (Stoneking) would have a chance. He’s done it for us all season, so to see him get that hit is exciting, he’s deserving.”
In the eighth inning, Stoneking found himself in a similar situation – runners on first and second with an opportunity to win the game. On that occasion, he grounded into a fielder’s choice which eventually allowed Airport to get out of the frame unharmed.
That at bat was lodged in his memory bank as he dug into the box in the 12th, merely hoping to help his team pull out a win.
“Being in the situation twice already, I just wanted a fast ball and the kid kept shaking the catcher off and wanted to give me curve balls,” Stoneking said. “Finally, he gave me a fast ball and I made sure I didn’t miss it that time.”
His drive over left fielder Evan Richardson’s head brought Jacob English in from second, and brought his teammates out of the dugout to begin the customary celebratory dogpile.
We just battled. They were going to walk him in one time too many, and (Stoneking) would have a chance. He’s done it for us all season, so to see him get that hit is exciting, he’s deserving.
St. James baseball coach Robbie Centracchio
In addition to delivering the game-winning hit, Stoneking also pitched seven innings, giving up three runs on eight hits. The Sharks’ ace struck out six Airport batters.
Airport starter Josh Talton certainly was up to the task as well, going eight innings while yielding five hits and three runs – two of which came on a trio of errors in the opening frame. Tanner Glenn came on in relief for the Eagles, holding down the fort until giving up the game-winning hit in the 12th.
“They’re both seniors and we’re going to miss them dearly,” said Airport baseball coach Tim Perry. “(Glenn) was 8-0 for us with an ERA around 1.00. Talton was 3-2 on the year, but he was our best guy toward the end of the year. ... We played well, they played better; it was just a well-played high school baseball game.
“We just left a pitch over the middle of the plate there, and (Stoneking) did what you were supposed to do with it.”
By virtue of its win Monday night, St. James won all three of its games in the Lower State tournament by a single run – each of which came in its final at bat.
“It’s Shark Park magic; the atmosphere is hard to compete with,” said St. James center fielder Liam Bloom.
▪ W: Kolby Robtoy L: Tanner Glenn S: .Top hitters: AHS: Tyler Corbitt 3-for-5; Evan Richardson 2-for-6, RBI; Josh Tucker 1-for-5, R, RBI. STJ: Grayson Stoneking 2-for-6, R, RBI.
▪ Records: Airport 14-10; St. James 23-7.