Strom Thurmond head coach Mack Hite was anxious to see how his team would respond in another do-or-die situation after it let Game 1 of the Class AA state championship series slip from its grasp.
Facing elimination in Game 2 of the series, Hite didn’t have to wait long to find out how the Rebels would respond at home.
Tannor Byrd quickly retired the first three batters of the game to get to the bottom half of the first inning, where the Rebels pounced, scoring four runs on a Payton Smith grand slam to spark what would end up being a 10-4 victory to force a decisive Game 3 at Riley Park in Sumter on Friday.
“We’ve played really well with our backs against the wall all season, and I’m really proud of the way they responded tonight,” Hite said. “This team has been a team that’s fought through adversity all year long. ... It’s not about the knockdown it’s about the get up. We’ve been knocked down before, and I told them today before the game and (Monday) on the bus ride home, ‘this is just another challenge, another chapter in the story.’”
With runners on second and third in the first inning and Byrd coming up to bat, Aynor decided to walk the starting pitcher and pitch to Smith instead. Smith turned on a pitch and drove it over the left field wall to put the Rebels up early – and for good.
Manufacturing runs early was something Hite was disappointed his team wasn’t able to do on Monday night, but Wednesday the Rebels chased Aynor starter Walt Richardson from the mound after 1⅓ innings and added three more in the second inning to lead 7-0 after two innings of play.
That allowed Byrd to settle in and pitch efficiently early on. The senior right-hander only allowed one base runner through the first three innings. He gave up the first Aynor run on a homer to Ridge Richardson in the fourth, but by that point the Rebels had scored another run, making the game 8-1.
“He pounded the zone pretty well,” Aynor head coach Chad Sarvis said of Byrd. “He’s a competitor and he did a good job, so you tip your hat to him. I felt like we barreled some balls up and just couldn’t get any to get in the hole from time to time.”
Byrd pitched a complete game, striking out four and giving up four runs.
Aynor scored another run in the fifth, but the Blue Jackets’ biggest inning came after Strom Thurmond stretched its lead to 10-2 and was three outs away from the win. Aynor put runners on second and third with one out in the top of the seventh , and Nick Fowler drove them both in with a single. Caleb Nobles grounded into a double play to end the game, sending both teams to Sumter for Game 3.
“We’ll go back to work tomorrow at practice and get after it,” Sarvis said. “We’ll be ready to play on Friday. Our kids will bounce back and be ready.”
▪ W: Tannor Byrd L: Walt Richardson
▪ Records: Aynor 22-5; Strom Thurmond 26-7.