Blythewood assumed a commanding position in the Region 4-4A baseball championship race on Tuesday with a tough 4-3 win at Spring Valley.
The eighth-ranked Bengals stand at 11-1 overall, 7-0 in region matters and enjoy a two-game lead in the loss column over both Spring Valley and Lugoff-Elgin. The win also completed a season sweep of Vikings, essentially staking Blythwood to a three-game lead (with the tie-breaker edge) over SV.
“That was kind of a gut-it-out win,” said Bengals coach Barry Mizzell. “It wasn’t pretty. We made several mistakes, but we battled and found a way to win. There isn’t much difference between these two teams.”
Blythewood never trailed, but wasn’t out of danger until junior right-hander Andrew Beckwith caught Spring Valley’s Chase Haas looking at a third strike for the final out with two teammates on base. Beckwith went the distance for the win after throwing a shutout on Friday night at Lugoff-Elgin.
“Andrew came back on three days rest and didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled,” said Mizzell. “The thought of having somebody else come on in the seventh never really entered my mind. Andrew’s become our guy. He’s won some big games for us and we trust in him.”
Pinch hitter Spencer Branham delivered the game-winning hit in the top of the sixth, stroking a two-out, opposite field single to left to plate Ricky Kernan and give the Bengals a 4-2 lead.
“We have a lot of guys who can contribute,” said Mizzell. “Spencer’s at bat was huge, considering there were two outs and had two strikes on him.”
Blythewood opened the scoring in the third. Mark Gonzalez led off with a single to right, Zach Callahan was hit by an Austin Hill pitch and leadoff man Brandon Burris beat out a deftly placed bunt for a hit to load the bases. Gonzalez came home on a ground out by D.J. Schofield. Hill, the Vikings ace, avoided further damage though he did issue a walk to load the bases again.
Spring Valley countered in the bottom of the fourth. Gene Cone led off the inning with a single and eventually scored on a double play.
Freshman Tyler Romanik put Blythewood back on top with a solo home run in the fifth – a line shot over the fence in left center. The Vikings responded in the bottom of the inning to tie it up at 2-2. Catcher Mitchell Griffin single with one out. Courtesy runner Cooper Rutland moved to second on a passed ball and raced home on a Bengal error.
Blythewood’s decisive move came in the sixth, beginning with a lead off double over the head of Cone in center field by Derek Croxton. Kernan followed with a single to score Croxton with the go-ahead run. Branham’s clutch pinch hit chased Hill and closed out the Bengals scoring.
Spring Valley had a big inning brewing in the sixth, but could not deliver the big hit. Haas drew a lead off walk, and dashed to third base when a high pop fly to shallow center field fell in for a hit when Burris lost the ball in the lights. Haas scored on a fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Trae Dent. But Gonzalez prevented any more damage by robbing Collin Trenery of a hit with a diving catch of a sinking liner to right field.
The Vikings were denied again in the seventh.
“All you can say is that we battled and came up short,” said SV coach Collin Liggett, whose team fell to 7-4, 4-2. “I think our kids will bounce back strong. If you look at our season, it hasn’t been easy since the start. We’ve been battling injuries, all sorts of thing. This team has faced adversity and responded, and this is no different.”
Though sitting pretty in the region race, Mizzell is stressing cold, hard facts to his team.
“Yeah, we’re in a great position, but we also have to understand that while we’re a good team that has won a few big games, we can just as easily lose on any given night,” said the veteran manager. “We still have a lot of getting better to do.”
There were plenty of glove gems, in addition to the Gonzalez circus grab. Cone made a fine running catch of a potential extra-base hit by Kernan in the second. Bengal shortstop Thomas Bessinger made two outstanding plays going to his right, resulting in force plays at second and one double play. Griffin threw out three would-be Blythewood base stealers.