The Falcons became the first Class 3A baseball team to capture three consecutive state championships with a 9-3 victory over Hartsville Saturday afternoon at home. A.C. Flora swept the best-of-three series to etch their name in the record books forever.
“It’s amazing. It was a lot of hard work but we wanted to make history and now it’s ours,” senior outfielder Connor Desmond said. “We knew we were going to get everybody’s best shot and I’m proud of the way we responded to it. We have something nobody will every be able to take from us.”
This is A.C. Flora’s fifth state championship since 2001 and the first they’ve ever won on its home field. The Falcons won titles in 2001 and 2007 before winning the last three in impressive fashion. They’ve gone 24-3 in the postseason during the three-year run and have earned the right to call themselves one of the most dominant programs in coach Andy Hallett’s 17 seasons. They also finished as runner-ups in 2003 and 2008.
They knew every time they stepped on the field, they would get the other teams best shot. But with 13 seniors, Hallet felt confident.
“It’s been tough,” Hallett said. “Every day we talked to these kids about how big it is. Every time you show up, you have to be ready to absorb the best blow because somebody is going to be ready to throw it at you. To those guys credit, they just come out, work hard and play. They don’t get rattled, fall into a rut or get too high or too low.”
Hartsville coach Tony Gainey tipped his cap to the Falcons.
“That is a great ball team,” Gainey said. “They won it, we didn’t give it to them. When you can walk off the field knowing you didn’t give one away and got beat - I’m not going to say it’s easier to take – but you know you didn’t blow one. They did everything right, made all the plays and got all the big hits.”
Hartsville (24-7) jumped on top early but the Falcons defense bailed them out early and often.
The Red Foxes loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning but starter Banks Cromer limited the damage. The Falcons allowed two runs in the inning but a double play ball helped get them out of the jam with minimal damage.
That lead was short-lived.
A.C. Flora (28-5) sent nine batters to the plate in the bottom half of the first and scored four runs to take the lead for good. The big blows were a two-run double by Desmond had a two-run single from Sam Anderson.
“It was a weird top of the first,” Desmond said. “They didn’t hit any balls hard but the ball didn’t bounce our way. We fought back like we always do. That was a big way for us to respond with a couple of big innings back-to-back.”
The momentum carried over into the second inning. The Falcons added three more runs on an RBI single from Austin Beskid, another RBI double from Desmond and a sacrifice fly by Wills Chapman.
Getting the lead early was important after the shaky first inning that included two hits, a walk and two errors. Cromer said he felt a lot more comfortable after he was given a lead.
“They had a few iffy hits and the error but after that I kind of settled down,” the senior left-hander said. “Those four runs we got in the bottom half of the inning was huge. Pitching with the lead is a lot easier.”
Hartsville loaded the bases again in the fourth and sixth innings but only came away with one run as the Falcons again turned 4-6-3 double plays to get out of it. Shortstop Madison Stokes, the Class 3A Player of the Year and South Carolina commitment, also made an incredible play when he fielded a ball behind the second base bag, flipped it behind his back with his glove hand to Everett Eynon to get the force out at second.
“One of strongest areas is our defense,” Stokes said. “That is what separates us from other good teams. We want t make the hard plays look routine. The pitchers got us some ground balls and we were able to get out of some situations with minimal damage.”
The Falcons added a couple of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth and senior Wills Chapman closed it out by retiring the side in the seventh.
“To win a state championship again, I couldn’t be prouder of those guys that wear that uniform and how the approach business every single day,” Hallett said. “It’s been a tough journey but one those guys have definitely earned.”
A.C. Flora 9, Hartsville 3
W: Banks Cromer. L: Worth Burch. Hitters: ACF – Austin Beskid 2-4, 3 RBI. Connor Desmond 2-3, 2 2B, 3 RBI. Sam Anderson 2 RBI. Hartsville – Burch 2-3.