Pressure forges second ring for AC Flora

May 21, 2013 

ONE OF THE MOST difficult achievements in all of sports is to repeat as champion. Getting one for the ring finger on one hand is tricky at best. Adding one to the ring finger on the other hand is problematic to say the least.

Andy Hallett did the math for his A.C. Flora baseball team.

“It’s a simple equation,” Hallett said. “We believe if it’s worth doing it, it’s worth being the best.

“If you’re going to dig a ditch, make it the best ditch. If you’re going to mow your yard, make it the best yard. When we step on the field, we want to be the best that we can.”

A.C. Flora is the best in the state for a second consecutive season, defeating Airport on Monday night for the Class 3A championship.

Hallett talked beforehand about how he and his coaching staff truly believed this team would contend for a state title. It was the championship a year ago with a young team that surprised him and his staff.

So, from the outset this spring, A.C. Flora had a target on its back.

“We talked about it,” Hallett said. “When this happens, you’re the defending champions, you’re going to be everybody’s Super Bowl. Everybody’s going to throw their best punch at you. They’re going to give you the best shot that they’ve got.

“I tell the kids every single day, we’ve got to be ready to take a couple of blows and keep fighting because everyone is going to come after the defending champions. That’s just the nature of the beast if you’re a competitor.”

Every step of the way, A.C. Flora was ready for the challenge of winning the school’s fourth state title. Yet the 2001, 2007 and 2012 clubs probably did not face the pressure of being the top dog throughout the season.

Yet A.C. Flora responded, winning six tournaments and playoff titles along the way to finish with a 27-5 record.

How A.C. Flora did it in the two-game sweep of an up-and-coming Airport squad was probably representative of how the Falcons succeeded all season.

In the opening game, A.C. Flora cornered itself with a 9-1 deficit heading to the bottom of the sixth inning. Four runs in the sixth made the game interesting. Then back-to-back home runs by Donald Gillespie and Austin Beskid completed the incredible comeback and knotted the score in the seventh inning.

By then, Hallett had turned the game over to senior Matt Wallace, who will take a fastball that occasionally touches 90 mph to The Citadel next season.

Hallett had determined before the championship series that Wallace would not start a game for the Falcons, even though Wallace was the ace of the staff. That way, Hallett figured, his best arm could be available for all three games, if needed.

When A.C. Flora pushed across a run in the 13th inning in the opener, Wallace was a winner for the eighth time in as many decisions.

Game 2 was more of the same. Gillespie powered a fastball over the left-field fence for a two-run homer in the first inning, drove in another pair of runs with a double in the fourth and added a final RBI with a sacrifice fly in the fifth.

That propelled A.C. Flora to a 10-3 lead through four innings, and it was again time for Wallace to bring his heater out of the bullpen. Wallace faced the minimum number of Airport batters over the final three innings while strikeout out three.

Wallace said he was fine with his re-defined role for the championship series because he could gas it up for a few innings without tiring. With a lead that reached eight runs, Wallace rarely needed to mix in a curveball.

With the big lead and Wallace on the mound, Hallett said it began to sink in that his club was going to win back-to-back championships. Then when Beskid, playing third base, threw to first baseman Jake Lewis to retire the final Airport batter, the A.C. Flora players were more than happy to discuss a subject that had been taboo among them throughout the season.

“We never talked about it. We never brought it up,” Gillespie said of repeating. “We didn’t want it in our heads. We wanted to put last year’s state (championship) behind us, and worry about this season.

“But once we started to get down to the nitty gritty, we just started having this big feeling we were going to win it all.”

By winning it all, A.C. Flora had figured out the equation. In the words of its coach, it was all about being the best it could be.

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