A.C. Flora again proved that pitching and defense wins championships.
The Falcons received a solid 51/3 innings from starter Banks Cromer and watched its defense turn two inning-ending double plays in the late innings to defeat Wren, 4-1, Wednesday in the winners bracket of the Class 3A Upper State baseball tournament.
The victory advances A.C. Flora into Monday’s Upper State Championship game, where some team will have to beat the Falcons twice on their home field. The Hurricanes will face Eastside, a 2-1 winner against Greenville, in an elimination game Friday.
“It always helps at this stage to get rest because nobody is healthy,” A.C. Flora coach Andy Hallett said. “We didn’t bring our bats, but we brought out gloves and Banks Cromer gave us a gutsy performance. That was an all-around team win.”
Cromer (6-1) threw 50 pitches in the first two innings but settled in to work into the sixth. He allowed one earned run on five hits with a strikeout, a walk and a hit batter. The only Wren (23-5) run came in the second on an RBI single by Chase McCroskey. He threw fewer than 10 pitches in the third and fourth innings and got out of the fifth with the first double play.
“The biggest thing is Banks settled in after two innings,” Hallett said. “I wasn’t sure how much longer he could go, but he comes back with back-to-back innings with less than 10 pitches. He couldn’t find his changeup and was having trouble locating his secondary pitch, but once he started to get his changeup working, he settled in.”
Wills Chapman relieved Cromer in the sixth and hit the first batter he faced before getting a grounder back to the mound to start a double play that ended the threat.
“We have one of the best defenses,” Cromer said. “I made some mistakes in the second inning to allow the run but once I made some changes, I started to fill the zone up. The two double plays were huge.”
That allowed the offense time to get going. Josh Hernandez tied it with RBI single in the fourth. Austin Beskind and Connor Desmond singled to lead off the inning, and after a sacrifice bunt by Chapman, moved the runners to second and third for Hernandez with two outs. He delivered a sharp single to left.
An inning later, Sam Anderson led off with a single, and courtesy runner Coleman Pope advanced to second on a passed ball before scoring on Donald Gillespie’s RBI single. Gillespie was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double, but the damage was done.
“You win games with two out hits,” Hallett said.
A.C. Flora (25-4) added a couple insurance runs in the sixth inning.
Wren starter Dakota Fitts pitched 52/3 innings and allowed 4 fours – two earned – on eight hits with three strikeouts and one walk.
“There guy was sneaky fast,” Hallett said. “Josh had a great at bat when we needed it most. He comes up with the big hit to tie the game and we scratch one more across the next inning to take the lead. Once we got their we wanted to play defense and turn it over to Wills.”
The two-time defending champion Falcons will have a rested staff set for Monday.
“We get to stay at home and sit back and wait for someone to come to us,” Hallett said.
W: Banks Cromer (6-1). L: Dakota Fitts. Hitters: (ACF) Austin Beskid 2-3, Connor Desmond 2-2, Sam Anderson 2-3; (W) Doug Greeely 2-3.