Aynor got used to the drama.
The Blue Jackets seem just as fitted for that, too.
After opening the Class AA Lower State baseball tournament with a walk-off hit to stay in the winner’s bracket, Aynor advanced to the finals with a 2-0 win over Bishop England on Monday. Neither team scored until Ian Prosser’s bases-loaded, two-out line drive to the gap in the bottom of the sixth. From there, pitcher Jason Duke left the bases full of Bishops in the top of the seventh with a two-out strikeout.
It was a penultimate moment for a team that has not lost a meaningful game since the 2015 season.
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“Looking back at last year, we came together as a family. I know people get tired of hearing that,” coach Chad Sarvis said after his team moved to 15-0 combined in playoff games and region contests this spring. “We have talent. But when your kids come together and they bond, that’s what we have here is team chemistry. It’s so huge. Our kids never panicked. There’s never a high or low moment.”
The tight-knit group steadied the ebbs and flows against Bishop England. And it happened as the game continued to build toward a big finish.
Each team was putting its fair share of runners on base early. The Blue Jackets had each of their first three base runners either picked off or doubled up, and Duke and the Aynor defense stranded nine Bishops in total, including six in scoring position.
The Blue Jackets’ best threat in the bottom of the sixth wasn’t wasted.
Prosser’s first two at-bats resulted in a strikeout and a foul out down the left-field line. His third trip to the box was fruitful. The catcher’s line drive rolled near the fence in right-center field and brought in Ridge Richardson and Walt Richardson.
“I stayed focused, got up there and did the job,” Prosser said. “I tried to get it backside so the runners could round second and third.”
That they did, and after Duke left two more Bishop England runners in scoring position in the top of the seventh, Aynor was able to celebrate putting itself in prime position. The winner of Wednesday’s Johnsonville-Bishop England game will return to western Horry County, and Aynor will already be at an advantage, needing to win one game with two possible chances.
It’s a scenario this year that has favored the home teams to the tune of about 95 percent.
Out of 64 district finals across all four classes in baseball and softball in this year’s South Carolina High School League playoffs, just three of the champions – Johnsonville baseball and Daniel and Carvers Bay softball – advanced out of the loser’s bracket.
While Sarvis and his team would like to return to its district production – it outscored opponents in that tournament 35-5 – the start of the Lower State tournament has been anything but easy for anyone. Of the first four games, only Aynor’s Monday win against the Bishops was decided by more than a single run.
Still, the Blue Jackets are exactly where any of the teams that made it wished they could be. It’s why the same things kept getting said from the Blue Jackets coaches and players.
“I’ve never played with a team so close,” Duke said. “That’s why we play so well together.”
▪ W - Jason Duke. L - Leo Albano. Top hitters - BE: Edward Bolchoz 1-2, BB; Jeffrey Brown 1-4; . AYN: Ian Prosser 1-3, 2B, 2 RBI; Ridge Richardson 2-2, BB, Run; Walt Richardson 1-2, HBP, Run.
▪ Records: Bishop England 18-10; Aynor 20-4.