The banners hanging on the outfield wall at Carolina Forest will be getting some company later this year.
It wasn’t the addition the Panthers wanted to earn Saturday. And it certainly isn’t the one the team hoped to have garnered by the end of next week.
Carolina Forest was denied its first-ever trip to the state finals after losing twice to Summerville on Saturday. The Green Wave won 6-3 to force a winner-take-all game for the Lower State championship and then won 7-2 in game two.
After Summerville earned the right to play J.L. Mann in the state finals and an ultra-promising season came to an end for Carolina Forest, however, baseball was taking a back seat to six-plus hours of outside actions that illustrated the ugly side of highly competitive sports.
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Less than two innings into the first game, administrators were asked to intervene when fans from the two sides became vocally aggressive. Players from both teams were heard swearing at each other throughout the night. Wave head coach Banks Faulkner came between the lines and was seen yelling and pointing at a Carolina Forest player during the second game. Multiple adults were escorted to the parking lot after a small fight broke out.
Seemingly meaningless by the time it happened, a complex-wide power surge at 9:11 p.m. stalled the game for 22 minutes.
“I hate that all that stuff kind of took the emphasis on why we were really here, which is for the kids,” Carolina Forest coach Jack Jolly said. “At times, it was really hard to keep our guys focused on what was the real importance of the event tonight. It’s unfortunate. We can’t control what happens in those bleachers. We can’t control what happens in that other dugout. We can only control what we do. There were probably a couple times when we didn’t respond in the right way. All being said and done, it was unfortunate. All that some people might remember is what went on [besides the games].”
As far as those were concerned, Summerville did exactly what it needed to in order to win two road games at the top-ranked team in South Carolina.
Pitchers Sawyer Bridges (game one) and Bo Gobin (game two) kept a Panthers team that scored 27 combined runs in the three previous playoff games off-balance. Meanwhile, the Wave offense found hole after hole in the Carolina Forest defense.
Jolly went as far to say that Summerville “just beat” his team and deserved to win. In the days that follow, though, both schools will likely have answer questions the extracurriculars that will grab much of the spotlight.
What bothered many the most happened in the top of the fourth inning of the second game.
Summerville had started to take control when Jack Bahen’s sacrifice fly to center pushed the score to 5-2. The ensuing throw back to the infield went past Carolina Forest third baseman Dylan Roberts, allowing another tagging runner to score.
After the play, the heated night crescendoed. Faulkner came onto the field of play, yelling at umpires and Roberts alike. After meetings with both players and coaches, umpires allowed the game to continue without further action.
That didn’t mean the situation went away. Faulkner defended himself, adding that in his opinion this was a problem that began during the teams’ Lower State second-round game earlier this week.
“Their player said something into my dugout,” Faulkner said. “The bottom line is I’m not going to let anybody talk to my players but me. I don’t talk to their players. I’m going to defend my players and I’m going to defend my program. You know, we dealt with that Monday night here. Our kids stayed above it and I was proud of them for that. We wanted to come back here and we wanted those guys. That was a big part of it. We let it sit on us a little bit and we filed it away. The game knows, man. The game knows. When you do things the right way, the game knows.”
Jolly said Faulkner’s reasoning didn’t matter.
“When he went over to get the ball, they were yelling, screaming, saying things to him,” Jolly said. “… On the way back, [Roberts] said something. The coach hears it; I don’t know if he thought it was directed at him or he knew it was directed at the players. He heard it, and he starts yelling at our player, which in my opinion is unprofessional. That’s where you go to the umpire or say something to the other coach. I think it’s crossing the line when a coach addresses a player from another team, especially in the manner he did.”
The highly volatile evening had more than its share of other problems, including the fan ejections. Carolina Forest Athletics Director Tripp Satterwhite said four people were ejected from the stands, and that all four were adults.
It was another low point for what was supposed to be a crowning moment for the winner, and one that was intended to reflect the game’s meaning. According to Satterwhite, 375 fans paid for tickets, and many more entered the stadium grounds with South Carolina High School League passes.
In the end, a year in which the Panthers expected to reach the pinnacle ended amid tears, controversy and events many wish could just be forgotten.
“This is going to hurt. It’s going to hurt for a while,” Jolly said. “But we’re not going to let it define who we are or what this season has meant for this team and this program. We have raised it to another level. We’re going to miss these seniors and their leadership and how they played the game. We had a great season, and we’re not going to let tonight define that.”
▪ W - Sawyer Bridges. L - Patrick Orlando. Top hitters - Summerville: Johnny Cook 2-3, RBI; Rusty Grayson 2-4. Carolina Forest: Hunter Baiden 2-4, HR, RBI; Jared Lembcke 1-3, HR, RBI.
▪ W - Bo Gobin. L - Jakob Frishmuth. Top hitters - Summerville: Brodie Blanton 3-4, Run; Jonny Watts 2-4, Run; Jack Bahen 2-4, HR, RBI; Rusty Grayson 2-4, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. Carolina Forest: Jakob Frishmuth 2-3, 2B; Joey Lewandowski 1-4, Run.
▪ Records: Summerville 25-6; Carolina Forest 23-8.