Chad Sarvis didn’t see his team record the biggest out in school history.
The Aynor baseball coach was tucked down into the depressed dugout at Riley Park alongside team manager J.J. Hastings. The longtime Blue Jacket only lifted his head after he heard the screams of joy from his players, assistant coaches and the couple hundred Aynor fans who made the trip to Sumter.
“It was a little nerves,” Sarvis said. “Just praying. Thanking the Lord up above that he gave us blessings.”
Aynor made the most of those blessings.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sun News
The Blue Jackets claimed the Class AA state title with a 9-6 win over Strom Thurmond in the best-of-three finale on Friday. It is the first state baseball championship in school history and only the second ever for a high school in Horry County, following St. James’ in 2011.
It was the perfect ending for a team that entered the season with little fanfare but over the long haul of the year proved it was the best team in South Carolina. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Aynor was playing in the shadow of Region VIII-AA foe Waccamaw, a team expected to compete for a state title. And then in the Lower State tournament, there were three games against a high-powered Bishop England squad that ended its season a year ago.
This week, it was Strom Thurmond, the top-ranked team in Class AA that on Thursday was announced to have the classification’s Coach of the Year (Mack Hite), Player of the Year (Michael Green) and two additional All-State selections in Padgett Sumner and Tannor Byrd.
One by one, the Blue Jackets ultimately dispatched them all, capped off with a wild win over the Rebels in which Aynor seemed to corral the chaos of the moment and conditions better than its opponents.
“It’s a state championship game, so there are a lot of nerves,” Strom Thurmond coach Mack Hite said. “We just didn’t play well, and Aynor did. I don’t want to talk a whole lot about what we didn’t do. I’d rather talk about what they did. What they did was put pressure on us, got on base and make us work for our outs. They earned it.”
Aynor earned the title by managing a few less mistakes. The teams combined for 10 walks, four batters hit by pitch, three wild pitches and eight errors.
The last run of the night was scored on a routine ground ball where a play at the plate proved fruitless after Strom Thurmond’s catcher believed he had a force out and didn’t make a play on a runner who wasn’t obliged to keep moving forward.
Again, moments of the game featured plenty of chaos.
But it was perhaps a moment of clarity by a high school junior that set the final game of the Class AA baseball season on the path it continued down.
About 45 minutes prior to game time, Ridge Richardson informed Sarvis that his arm was sore and he didn’t think he should pitch. Sarvis swapped out scorecards and sent out Jason Duke, the sophomore who won game one of the series in Aynor on Monday.
“My arm was hurting from last game. It’s just been sore,” Richardson said. “I haven’t gotten over it. I know I let them down at that part. I knew I had to come back and get some hits for us.”
Richardson’s teammates were just fine with his decision. From his clean-up spot, the designated recorded three RBIs, including two on a third-inning double that started to swing momentum after an early 3-0 Strom Thurmond lead.
In the ensuing four innings, the Blue Jackets poured it on offensively while Strom Thurmond’s defense struggled. Even after the Rebels scored three runs to make it a one-run game in the top of the sixth, there was Aynor – coming right back with two more runs of its own.
“The conditions here – misty rain, wet – I felt like if we could settle in and put the ball in play, good things could happen,” Sarvis said. “I felt like when we got that big inning there, middle of the game [fifth inning], I felt like that was a big plus for us. I felt like that is what got us over the edge.”
Aynor also got plenty of production from several different places. For instance, the Blue Jackets’ No. 8 hitter, Luke Martin, was 4-for-4, scoring three runs. Caleb Nobles was 2-for-2 and drew three walks.
“Everybody is equal,” said Nobles, who came on for Duke and got the final four outs. “If somebody can’t get the job done, somebody else will step up and get it done.”
Blue Jackets of every variety stayed on the field Friday night for just shy of an hour, celebrating a victory that was months in the making.
There were pictures with family and friends, more than a few hugs and a coach who was having problems admitting this was real.
“It’s just special,” Sarvis said. “I can’t say enough about this group of kids. They keep battling; they keep competing every night out. I can’t say enough about them. They go to work every day to get better and give themselves an opportunity to win.”.
Whether the Blue Jackets coach saw it become official or not.
▪ W - Jason Duke. L - Keati Buchanan. Top hitters - Strom Thurmond: Tannor Byrd 1-3, HBP, Run; Peyton Smith 2-3, BB, RBI; Rod Dobbs 1-3, HBP, RBI, Run. Aynor: Ridge Richardson 1-3, 2B, BB, RBI; Caleb Nobles 2-2, 3 BB, RBI, Run; Luke Martin 4-4, 3 Runs.
▪ Records: Strom Thurmond 24-8; Aynor 23-6.