The possibility of becoming the first Class 3A baseball team in South Carolina to win three consecutive state titles has started to sink in for A.C. Flora coach Andy Hallett and his group of 13 seniors.
A.C. Flora swept the past two championship series against Fort Mill and Airport and will begin its quest for a third straight title when they travel to Hartsville on Thursday night for Game 1 in the best-of-three championship series.
Game 2 will be Saturday at 1 p.m. at A.C. Flora, and if a third game is needed, it will be played Monday at a neutral site.
Hallett realized what was at stake after Flora defeated Wren 9-6 Monday to win the Upper State championship. The Falcons are 22-3 in the playoffs the past three years.
“It dawned on me the next day,” Hallett said. “We were so concerned with trying to defeat a good Wren team, it didn’t catch me until the next morning. I was like, ‘We’re going back to the state championship.’ I was even more astounded when I found out we have an opportunity to do something that has never been accomplished.”
At practice Tuesday, Hallett gathered the team in the outfield, sat them around in a circle and talked about Hartsville and the opportunity before them.
Senior Alexander Jenkins, the starting pitcher in the championship series opener last year and Thursday’s starter, said the expectations have grown from that first championship.
“Coach Hallett said we’ve accomplished so many things this year and in the past three years, but it’s not over yet,” Jenkins said. “We have a chance to be remembered forever. You can’t erase history.”
A.C. Flora is no stranger to success. This is the Falcons seventh championship appearance since 2001. They claimed titles in 2001, 2007, 2012 and 2013. They finished as runners-up in 2003 and 2008.
The Falcons can lay claim to being one of the more consistent programs across the state during Hallett’s tenure. In his 17 seasons, Flora has complied a 379-141 record, a .728 winning percentage. They have won 12 region titles and 11 district championships during that time.
“A lot of it has to do with the expectations we have every day,” Hallett said. “When we come to practice, it’s to get better. Some of our practices are not always fun and pretty. There’s a lot of yelling going on and a lot of hard-coaching and tough love. “
The experience of the seniors has been a calming influence. In District finals against Emerald and Wren, A.C. Flora needed one win to advance while the visitors needed two. The Falcons lost the first game both times yet still advanced.
Senior Banks Cromer started both of the win-or-go home games. Cromer will be the starting pitcher Saturday.
“We have 13 seniors, and we want to go out there and do what we can do and not get caught up in the moment,” Cromer said. “I think we’re mature enough for that. Coach Hallett preaches to us we’re never out of it until that final out is recorded, and we take that to heart.”
Hartsville, which last won a state title in 2007 while in Class 4A, possibly could be Flora’s biggest challenge. Shy Phillips, who has signed with The Citadel for football and baseball, leads Hartsville offense. The Red Foxes (24-5) are led by pitchers Andrew Coker (11 wins) and Worth Burch (nine wins).