As A.C. Flora coach Andy Hallett walked back to his dugout from the third base coaching box at the end of the first inning, he was disappointed to have one run on the board.
The Falcons left the bases loaded, and the head man for the past 17 years didn’t feel like the approach at the plate was what he was looking for.
It didn’t take long to erase that memory. The two-time defending champions banged out 17 hits – six doubles – as A.C. Flora cruised to a 17-1 victory against Chester in the opening round of the Class 3A, District 2 baseball playoffs. That game was halted after the top of the fifth due to the 10-run mercy rule.
“We wanted to have quality at-bats with runners in scoring position,” Hallett said. “That is our biggest thing. It’s not about the first or second pitch, it’s about one swing and we tell them don’t miss. We were patient, didn’t get in bad counts or chase balls out of the zone. When they got their pitch, we did a lot of damage in the middle of the field.”
South Carolina commitments Madison Stokes and Everett Eynon led the charge with three hits apiece. Every hitter in the lineup collected at least one hit, and eight of the nine scored runs. Six of the nine starters drove in at least one run. Eynon drove in four runs, and Donald Gillespie added three RBIs.
“We wanted to come out swinging,” Stokes said. “This is the first game of the playoffs, and we know every at bat is important. We keep swinging like tonight we should be OK. It’s a good start.”
After scoring one in the first, the Falcons added two in the second, six in the third and eight in the fourth as they batted around in each of the final two innings.
They had six extra base hits and stole six bases. Eynon broke things open with a three-run double in the third. He drove a 3-2 pitch through the hole into right field to push the lead to 7-1. Seven of the runs came after two outs.
“We run,” Hallett said. “We’re sitting at 21-3, and we have three home runs the whole season. We have to put balls in play. We run, we bunt and play to our strengths. We want to play pepper with the fence with a line drive ground ball approach.”
The pitching was just as solid, especially from relievers Will Taks and Gillespie. Austin Beskid started, and Hallett hoped they could get three innings out of the veteran. But after missing nearly three quarters of the season with an injury, the senior wasn’t at his best. Beskid allowed the only Chester hit, a double on the first pitch of the game.
Taks and Gillespie combined to throw three scoreless innings in which they recorded four strikeouts and retired 11 Falcons in a row. Taks (4-0) retired all seven batters he faced.
“I wanted (Taks) to finish, but we didn’t want to run him much over 30 pitches,” Hallett said. “We want to use him again on Monday. ... We think we have some quality arms out of the bullpen that will give us a chance to win every night.”
A.C. Flora (21-3) will host Emerald on Monday night at 6:30 p.m in a winner’s bracket contest. Chester will travel to Travelers Rest in an elimination contest Monday.
“It’s always important to start 1-0 in the playoffs,” Hallett said. “We knew we had to play defense and throw the ball across the plate. That is kind of what we do.”