It was a night of celebration for the Blythewood baseball and softball teams on Monday.
Playing on adjacent diamonds at the school’s athletic complex, the two teams closed out the regular season with wins over visiting Lugoff-Elgin – in the process, clinching outright Region 4-4A championships and finishing with identical 19-5 overall and 11-1 conference records.
The Bengals play in tandem again at home in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs on Thursday.
Bucky Ware’s youthful softball team, which has no seniors or juniors on the roster, completed a surprising run to yet another region title with a 6-1 win. In fact, no Blythewood team has ever failed to secure at least a share of a conference championship. The Bengals, who sport an all-time 69-5 region report card, have five outright titles and one shared prize (in 2007) on the resume.
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“I’ll be honest, to think we would go 11-1 in the region after losing all those veteran seniors last year was a bit of a stretch,” said Ware. “But this team has made plays when its needed to make plays all year. We don’t look great all the time, but he have a team that doesn’t let down under any circumstances.”
The Bengals got the jump early, scoring all the runs they would require in the first inning. Katie Chappell led off with a single to right field, and Ellen Cordova followed suit against L-E starter Erin Blizzard. Chappell took third base on Cordova’s hit. Cordova moved to second on a steal. Chappell scored and Cordova moved over to third on a wild pitch. Cordova scored with Blythewood No. 3 batter hit into an infield out.
L-E (10-11, 6-6) cut the deficit to 2-1 in the top of the fifth on two Blythewood infield errors. Kelsey Griham led off the inning by reaching base on a boot, and scored when the Bengals misplayed a two-out grounder off the bat of Dallas Guerrero.
Blythewood quickly responded with two runs in the bottom of the fifth and added two insurance tallies in the sixth. Chappell and Cordova delivered RBI hits in the fifth. Lori Owens doubled and Ansley Gillstrap singled to open the Bengals sixth, and both ended up scoring on the same wild pitch.
Chappell went the distance to pick up her ninth win in the circle. The eight-grade right-hander allowed just three hits and struck out five.
Blythewood opens the state playoff against Northwestern on Thursday. L-E, meanwhile, is the region’s No. 4 seed, and will be entered in the Lower State bracket. The Demons travel to face Region 6 champion Sumter.
“We’ve had some challenges this season, but I’m very proud of the way we’ve competed in our first year in 4A,” said first-year Demons coach Craig Marlow. “We had to ask some young players off the jayvee team to step in a fill some spots on the varsity team and they’ve done a good job. We had higher expectations, but considering the circumstances we’ve done well for a very young team playing at this level for the first time.”
As was the case with the softball team, Barry Mizzell’s baseball Bengals wrapped up the region’s No. 1 state playoff seed, but needed a win on Monday to claim the 4-4A championship outright.
Blythewood’s 10-5 win clinched the program’s first region title since the inaugural campaign in 2006 at the 3A level.
“It’s nice to get it done, because it sure hasn’t been easy,” said Mizzell. “It went down the the last game of the season and at the end of a real tough stretch. It’s been a real grind for us the past two weeks, but we were able to achieve one of the goals we set for ourselves. We’ll celebrate this tonight and turn our attention to getting ready for the playoffs.”
Grayson Greiner, the Bengals star senior catcher, had a big night, belting two home runs – a two-run shot to center field to cap a six-run second inning, and a solo blast to lead off the fifth. Greiner, who pitched a no-hitter and smacked a game-winning two-rum home on Saturday in a top-seed clinching win over Richland Northeast, hit three home runs in the span of four at bats over two games – all to center field.
“Grayson’s really locked in when he hits them to center and right center like he has the past two games,” said Mizzell.
The game may have been the last of the season for Lugoff-Elgin (11-12, 4-8). The Demons, who lost their final three region games while needing just one win to clinch a playoff spot, finished the season in a three-way tie for fourth with Irmo and Dutch Fork. Two teams make the cut; the other is out.
“It’s been a tough, frustrating stretch for us,” said Demons coach Randy Stokes. “It’s not like we’ve poorly, and we haven’t had many breaks come our way. But the bottom line is we haven’t done enough to keep ourselves out of this mess. I won’t know until (Tuesday) if we’re playing on Thursday or if we have to pack it in.”
Despite falling into a 6-0 hole early, the Demons kept plugging away and forced Blythewood to use three pitchers to settle the issue. Chase Duncan’s solo home run in the fifth got L-E on the board. Blake Outlaw hit a solo homer with two outs in the fifth to cut the deficit to 6-3.