A.C. Flora knows how to make things interesting.
The two-time defending state champion Falcons dropped the opener of the Class 3A Upper State final 7-1 to Wren before claiming a 9-6 win in the second to advance to the state championship for the third consecutive season. A.C. Fora took the same route in the District finals in eliminating Emerald.
“It’s awesome,” A.C. Flora coach Andy Hallett said. “Wren is a really good team, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew we were going to have to play our best baseball when we needed it most. We found our offense when we needed it most.”
A.C. Flora will open the best-of-three championship series at Hartsville on Thursday. The Red Foxes also dropped the opener to Berkeley 4-3 before winning the second game 2-0 to advance to its first state finals since 2007. A.C. Flora will be attempting to become the first Class 3A school to win three consecutive championships.
Hallett had a simple message for his team between games.
“You can’t measure the heart of a champion,” Hallett said. “We are the two-time the defending state champion, and I can promise we’re not going to give away what we own. If they take it from us, we’ll tip our hat, but we were going to come out with everything we had. We were going to fight until the end and find a way to get back into the championship for the simple reason we have experience on our side. There is nothing we haven’t seen in the last two years. Credit our guys for hanging in and finding a way to score nine runs against a high-quality arm.”
An offense that scratched across one run in the fist game got on track early and often in the second game.
The Falcons scored single runs in the top of the second and third to take the early lead. Josh Hernandez had an RBI ground out to score Connor Desmond in the second, and Austin Beskid had an RBI single to score Madison Stokes in the third.
Doug Gressly tied it for Wren in the bottom half of the third with a two-run double to the corner in the right field.
But A.C. Flora (26-5) took control with a four-run outburst in the fifth. Stokes led off with a single and moved to third on a two-base error on a ball by Everett Eynon to second base. The Hurricanes intentionally walked Donald Gillespie to load the bases with no outs.
Beskid delivered an RBI single to center to give the Falcons the lead. Desmond followed with a sacrifice fly to score Eynon to make it 4-2. Wills Chapman was hit by a pitch to reload the bases with one out, and Hernandez laced an RBI single to center. Mills Carlton grounded to third, and the throw home moved the catcher off the plate, allowing Beskid to score and finish the scoring in that inning.
“We put together some great innings with small ball and timely hits,” Hallett said. “We were fortunate to get that crooked number to separate us out.”
Wren got back within 7-5 in the sixth inning. But Eynon, who was 6-for-8 in the two games, delivered a bloop two-run single to make it a four-run lead going to the final chance for Wren. The Hurricanes plated a run on an RBI double by Evan Bagwell, but Beskid struck out LT Tolbert to end the game.
“We’ve been trying and fighting for this the whole year,” Eynon said. “We’ve been playing really well in the playoffs, and I like where we’re at right now. We hit it hard in the first game, but it was right at guys. We talked about keeping hitting it on the barrel and things would happen, and that’s what we did.”
Banks Cromer earned the win. He also was the winning pitcher when the Falcons clinched the district. He allowed two runs on five hits with four strike outs in 42/3 innings of work.
“Banks went out knowing our season was on the line, just like in the district championship,” Hallett said. “He went out and did his thing and threw great.”
Wren (25-6) forced the decisive game with a 7-1 victory in the opener. Datoka Fitts scattered eight hits with three strikeouts and one walk in the complete game effort for the Hurricanes. Chase McCroskey was 3-for-4 with a three-run home run and four RBIs to pace the offensive attack. His three-run home run in the sixth inning make it 4-0 and jump-started the Hurricanes offense to six runs over final two innings.