At the start of the baseball season, the consensus across the state was the Belton-Honea Path High School baseball team had the potential to repeat as Class AAA state champions. On Monday, the top-ranked Bears realized that potential.
Behind a complete-game, 14-strikeout performance by Blake Holliday, BHP beat visiting St. James 5-0 to win a second consecutive state title.
Monday’s outcome is the second time in program history the Bears have won back-to-back titles, the last time over the 1990 and 1991 seasons. It is also the fifth state title in program history.
“Being No. 1 and having the target on your back all year long and still being able to finish strong, it is really special,” BHP head coach Steve Williams said. “It is incredible. These guys have worked hard and they earned this.”
Holliday, a Clemson signee, twirled a gem from the mound, allowing just one hit and two walks in the winning effort. Key for the future Tiger was retiring 11 consecutive from the fourth to seventh innings.
St. James’ Liam Bloom led the fourth off with a single, but the bases were barren for the Sharks until Nick Flood drew a two-out walk in the seventh.
St. James’ Grayson Stoneking took the loss. The future Presbyterian College player was charged five earned runs on seven hits and walk. He struck out four.
Williams said the pitching Monday, as well as over the last two seasons, has been the key to success.
“With Jake (Crawford) and Dylan (Spence) last year and Blake, Austin and Griffin Jester, that has been where things have started for us,” he said. “The defense this year has also been special. Our fielding percentage was .970 and we made 28 errors all year.”
The Bears (28-4) got all the offense they would need in the second inning.
Senior Austin Hughes chopped a one-out single before stealing second. He advanced to third on a Jamison Patterson groundout to second base and then scored on a Braxton Sherriff grounder up the middle.
BHP stretched its lead to 2-0 the following inning. After Dax Roper eyed a two-out walk, and gave way to courtesy runner Kameron Burton, Holliday smashed a double to deep right-center field to bring Burton home from first.
The Sharks (23-9) held BHP at bay over the fourth and fifth innings, before Austin Todd broke the game open in the sixth.
After Holliday singled and Griffin Jester was walked, The Citadel signee Todd blasted a ball over the left-field wall to make it 5-0 Bears.
“We had talked to him first about bunting, but after he fouled it off I just felt as good a hitter as he has been for us he might hit one in the gap,” Williams said. “He hit a curveball and man, that was the sweetest sound.”
Holliday finished the day 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI in his final game as a Bear. Todd went 1-for-3 while Hughes also went 1-for-3 with a run scored.
Despite the absence of runs, the Sharks had chances to bring runners in. For the game, St. James stranded four runners, three of whom were in scoring position. Bloom, who was hit by a pitch in the first inning, was stalled at second and again at third in the fourth inning. Jordan Fields was left at second in the third inning while Flood was left at first in the seventh.
Bloom’s 1-for-2 day led St. James from the plate.
Monday marked the final game for both schools in Class AAA, as both will move to Class AAAA next year under the new realignment, and addition of AAAAA to the South Carolina High School League.
BHP will be in Region I, St. James in Region VII.
▪ WP: Holliday; LP: Stoneking; S: none. Top hitters: B – Holliday, 2-3, RBI; Todd, 1-3, HR, 3 RBI; SJ – Bloom 1-2.
▪ Records: BHP 28-4; SJ 23-8.