A champions heart can’t be measured.
Two outs from being eliminated, two-time defending state champion A.C. Flora rallied with three runs in the seventh inning to escape with the District 2 championship following a 7-6 victory at home against Emerald on Friday night.
“This is a special group of guys, not doubt about it.” A.C. Flora coach Andy Hallett said. “We had to play our best when greatness was needed. We didn’t bring our best defensive effort. This is as bad defensively that we’ve played all year, but, fortunately for us, we found a way to score one more run than they did. I tell the guys if you don’t bring your glove, bring your bat. They did.”
Top-ranked A.C. Flora (23-4) will be at home against Eastside in the Upper State championship series. Greenville and Wren will play in the other half of the four-team, double-elimination bracket.
Connor Desmond, who had five hits in the two games, hopes this will be a spark for the Falcons.
“I think we can use this as a boost,” the senior center fielder said. “We didn’t play very well defensively, but, hopefully, this can catapult us up to play better baseball.”
These two teams met in the district final last year, and the same scenario unfolded then as it did Friday. A.C. Flora lost the opening game before coming back to win the decisive game en route to its second straight state championship.
The Falcons were trailing by a run to open the top of the seventh when the winning rally began with one out. Madison Stokes and Everett Eynon reached on infield singles before Donald Gillespie seemingly gave A.C. Flora the lead when he drilled a 3-2 pitch over the scoreboard in left field. But the home run was not allowed because Gillespie had asked for time and it was granted by the home plate umpire before the pitch. After the A.C. Flora dugout staged a mild celebration, Gillespie regrouped and drew a walk to load the bases.
“You play and stay around long enough, you will see everything,” Hallett said. “I saw the umpire throw his arms up out of the corner of my eye. The biggest thing is he regrouped and got himself back together to draw the walk. I trusted the guys behind him and the ‘baseball gods’ evened it out.”
Stokes scored the tying run on a wild pitch, and Austin Beskid followed with a RBI single for the go ahead run. Connor Desmond, who was 3-for-4, added an insurance run to make it 7-5 going into the bottom half of the inning.
Emerald got an RBI double from Bradley Dixon in the bottom half of the frame and had the tying on third base when Wills Chapman induced a fly ball to right field to end the game.
“We’ve been here before,” Desmond said. “It’s just a mindset. We believe we’re going to win until the umpires tells us to stop. That’s our mindset no matter what the score is.”
Emerald (19-9) had taken a one-run lead with a four-run bottom of the fifth. An error, single and hit batter loaded the bases to open things. Rush Owen followed with an RBI single and Hamp Fallaw made it a one-run game by getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Bradley Dixon and Sheldon Reed followed with run-scoring fielder’s choice ground balls for the 5-4 advantage.
Chapman (5-1) pitched the final three innings. He got the Falcons out of the jam in the fourth and gutted it out to the end.
“Wills is a guy that is a competitor,” Hallett said. “He moves the ball both ways, and he has the Frisbee and saucer, and if we’re going to lose at home, I’m going to do it with one of our guys.”
Emerald forced the decisive game with a 10-4 win in the opener. The Vikings broke open a tie game with a seven-run sixth inning that was aided by an error, balk, two walks and a hit batter with the bases loaded. Four of the runs scored with two outs, and five of the runs were unearned.
“We hit the ball exceptionally well in the first game, but it was right at them,” Hallett said. “We hit a whole lot of ‘at-‘em’ balls. I was hoping it would even out in the second game.”
Game 1: W: Sheldon Reed. L: Mills Carlton. Hitters: E – Hamp Fallaw 2-4, Bradley Dixon 2-4, Matthew Mulkey 2-4. ACF – Donald Gillespie 2-4, HR, Connor Desmond 2-3, HR.