Aynor fell short of its primary goal Monday.
But in the midst of a 5-4 loss to Dillon in a one-game playoff to determine postseason seeding, the Blue Jackets may have found a bit of the mojo lost over the course of a trying eight days. In that span, they were accused of using illegal bats by what is believed to be multiple schools and then had to adjust to new equipment as the school researched the facts.
Aynor’s Morgan Elliott hit two home runs and Brooke Elliott added a third against Dillon, and another shot by Morgan Richardson was about four feet shy of leaving the field. It wasn’t enough, as perennial powerhouse Dillon continued to push the envelope and earned Region VIII-AA’s No. 1 seed.
The loss was tough to stomach for the Blue Jackets; it paled in comparison to being called cheaters, something that was revealed to the team early last week.
“People can’t take losing,” Morgan Elliott said with a not-so-subtle eye roll. “Seriously, we have a bunch of girls who put forth a bunch of effort. All of us play summer ball. We all work out butts off; we play softball throughout the year.”
Until last Monday, the defending Class AA champs were rolling this spring. They had yet to lose in the regular season (they did fall to Johnsonville in a preseason tournament) and were scoring in excess of 11 runs per game. Although not every team in the state inputs its scores at MaxPreps.com, that site lists Aynor as one of the top-10 offenses in the classification in terms of run production, a figure bolstered by six contests in which they scored at least 14 times.
After Monday of last week, though, it wasn’t immediately clear how much of that offense Aynor would bring with it into the postseason. That day, the South Carolina High School League informed Athletics Director Doug Hinson that allegations had been made that Aynor’s bats were a little too lively.
Over time, the fibers in a bat can break down or fuse, making it a higher-powered shell of the original product. Distance or speed at which a batted ball travels can be affected. Bats can also be doctored via shaving, rolling or heating, all three of which are illegal by National Federation of State High School Association and Amateur Softball Association standards.
Neither Hinson nor coach Tony Mills knew which part of the equation their softball team was being accused of, nor did they want to know where those complaints were coming from. And with no direct proof, the the SCHSL left it in Aynor’s hands, at least for the time being.
“My whole take on it is, No. 1, we wanted to do what we were supposed to do so nobody got hurt,” said Hinson, who for a brief time was the softball coach at Green Sea Floyds. “No. 2, we wanted to make sure our softball team was complying with the rules. What the High School League told me is that it was an issue throughout the state and they got some phone calls on our program.
“I can’t prove that the bats were legal or illegal. If it’s a safety issue, and that’s what was told to me, we need to be doing this.”
The school immediately told every player on the team that whatever bat she was using was now out of rotation until the compression testing machine it purchased arrived and the bats could be verified, something Hinson hopes can still happen prior to the start of the playoffs on Thursday.
Aynor also bought four new bats that complied with factory-level compression standards and the players were forced to use those. The total cost between the machine and the four bats was approximately $2,050, Hinson said.
It was worth the cost to protect the reputation of one of the best softball teams in Class AA over the course of the last two seasons.
The Blue Jackets are coming off that state title and are certainly on the short list of teams expected to compete for this year’s championship, even though the path probably got a little tougher after Monday’s loss and last Tuesday’s defeat, also to Dillon.
“Our J.V. and B teams went undefeated this year. Our varsity program was undefeated until [last Tuesday],” Mills said. “It’s been a long, long process to build up this program.”
“We’ve not done anything wrong. We would not allow that. We don’t want any cloud over our softball program.”
As a result, the Blue Jackets’ dugout included just five bats on Monday, the four purchased by the school and one of the coaches’ for pregame drills. The lack of available hardware didn’t stop the Elliott sisters from delivering the team’s first three home runs since last week’s news.
Those shots also didn’t stop Mills from saying the entire process has been a huge distraction. He mentioned the time discussing it at practice instead of working through the regular routine.
The more Aynor distances itself, though, may also help, too.
“You take someone who plays golf and they have a certain set of clubs they like to use,” Mills said. “You take someone who goes bowling and they have a specific ball they want to use. You play tennis and you may think you’re better with one racket. You may not be any better with that tennis racket, but mentally you think you are. The game’s played between the ears.”
▪ W - Tori Grimsley. L - Brooke Elliott. Top hitters - Dillon: Marissa Tyndall 2-4, 2 Runs; Ashley Phillips 3-4, RBI. Aynor: Morgan Elliott 2-3, 2 HR, 2 RBI; Brooke Elliott 2-4 HR, 2 RBI.
▪ Records: Dillon 15-4; Aynor 12-2.