HARTSVILLE — A.C. Flora has won its share of close games on its way to winning state championships the past two years.
The Falcons added another one to the list as they go for their third consecutive crown. A.C. Flora nearly blew a seven-run lead in defeating Hartsville 8-7 on Thursday at Jimmy White Park in the opening game of the best-of-three Class 3A championship series.
Game 2two is set for Saturday at 1 p.m. at A.C. Flora. If necessary, a third game will be at Sumter’s Riley Park on Monday at 7 p.m.
“When we got up big, I started to think back to last year in the first game of the championship series against Airport when we were down 8-1 and came back to win,” A.C. Flora coach Andy Hallett said. “I knew the game wasn’t over because Hartsville is in the state championship for a reason.
“It was a crazy game, no doubt about it. But the biggest thing is we held in there and were able to come off the field in the sixth with the lead and then close it out.”
A.C. Flora (27-5) looked to be in control for much of the game, especially after its five-run outburst in the top of the sixth to lead 8-1.
But as the Red Foxes came off the field in top of the sixth, outfielder Austin Morris huddled his team around and gave a passionate speech.
The Red Foxes responded with five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Flora starter Alexander Jenkins walked Chandler Melton to score Michael Slattery and get Hartsville within 8-2. Then, catcher Nic Martin singled to right field, and the ball got by right fielder Wills Chapman, allowing two more runs to score and Martin ended up on third as the Red Foxes closed to within 8-5.
After that, Chapman came in to replace Jenkins and walked Morris on four pitches and was taken out in favor of Donald Gillespie, who overthrew first base on a pickoff attempt, allowing Martin to score and Morris to advance to third.
Hartsville left fielder Shy Phillips drove Morris in on a sacrifice fly to trim A.C. Flora’s lead to 8-7. The Red Foxes never got a chance to tie it in the seventh as Gillespie retired the Red Foxes in order to pick of the save.
“This hurts a little because we were so close,” Hartsville coach Tony Gainey said. “When you are down 8-1, and get it to 8-7, we had a chance. This group never hung their heads and kept battling.”
Jenkins got the win, allowing six runs on six hits in 51/3 innings. He walked two, hit two batters and struck out three.
Austin Beskid was 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Sam Anderson was 1-for-2 with a two-run single in the third. Class 3A Player of the Year Madison Stokes was 1-for-3 with a double and RBI.
Slattery took the loss, giving up six runs in 51/3 innings. Martin and Andrew Coker each were 1-for-3 with an RBI to lead Hartsville.