High School Sports

Aynor rallies back to top Strom Thurmond in Game 1 of state finals

Aynor’s Hayden Franklin (left) makes the tag on Strom Thurmond’s Rod Dobbs during Game 1 of the Class AA state championship series.
Aynor’s Hayden Franklin (left) makes the tag on Strom Thurmond’s Rod Dobbs during Game 1 of the Class AA state championship series. jblackmon@thesunnews.com

One crazy inning defined the opener of the Class AA state baseball finals.

Aynor rode the wave of that frame just a little better than Strom Thurmond.

The Blue Jackets won game one of the best-of-three championship series 5-4 at home on Monday. All nine runs came in the sixth, with the Rebels jumping out to a four-run advantage and then Aynor coming right back over the top.

It was an inning that made no sense in relation to the rest of the game, but the Blue Jackets aren’t complaining.

“Our kids live for that moment,” Aynor coach Chad Sarvis said. “Any time this crowd rallies behind them, we feel like we have a good chance.”

There certainly was the crowd – one that Sarvis said was the “most electric” of any in his 18 years at the school. But what fans of both teams saw for the first five frames was a pitcher-dominated game.

Strom Thurmond’s Henry Cartrett and Aynor’s Jason Duke mowed through batter after batter. The teams combined for just eight hits through those five innings, and both defenses continued to make good.

The Rebels and Blue Jackets threatened, but it was never anything that came to fruition.

Until the sixth.

Strom Thurmond sent 10 batters to the plate, piled up six hits, including a two-RBI single from nine-hole batter Rashad Bryant. Duke stopped the bleeding with a foul out.

Within moments, it was clear Aynor wasn’t going to need much time to mount a comeback. The Blue Jackets opened the bottom half of the inning with two hits, two walks and a batter hit by pitch. Austin Hucks started the scoring with his bases-loaded two-run single, and Aynor just kind of kept it going.

“We’ve been down like this before in this season,” Duke said. “We find a way to come back. That’s what I love about this team. … We settled down. They walked a few hitters and we capitalized on their mistakes.”

Despite getting just two hits, the Blue Jackets tied it up on Duke’s bases loaded fielder’s choice and then went ahead for good when Keegan Krasula – as a courtesy runner for Ian Prosser – scored from third on a wild pitch.

“There’s a lot of pressure, obviously, and a big crowd,” Rebels coach Mack Hite said. “We didn’t get it done and Aynor did. They were able to get up there and have great at-bats and not chase pitches. They took some close ones and got guys on base. … Baseball’s a funny game. It’s a tough game. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, it will come back and kick you in the teeth.”

In this case, it came on the biggest stage for the two programs each making their second-ever appearance in the finals. Aynor previously made it in 2006, losing to Gilbert, and Strom Thurmond won the 1982 Class AAA title.

This time, the teams will meet Wednesday in Johnsonville. Win there – or at a neutral side on Friday if a game three is necessary – and Aynor will add some serious hardware to its trophy case. But after one wacky inning to open the series, the Blue Jackets aren’t assuming anything.

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▪ W - Jason Duke. L - Payton Smith. Top hitters - Strom Thurmond: Rashad Bryant 2-3, 2 RBI; Rod Dobbs 2-4, 2B, RBI; Michael Green 2-4, Run. Aynor: Jason Dukes 2-4, RBI, SB; Ridge Richardson 1-2, BB; Austin Hucks 2-3, 2 RBI; Ian Prosser 0-2, 2 BB, RBI.

▪ Records: Strom Thurmond 23-7; Aynor 22-5.

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