A.C. Flora opened the best-of-three Class 3A baseball state championship series with a 3-0 win over Fort Mill on Monday at Falcon Field behind the stellar pitching of staff ace Player Loving.
It was the seventh straight playoff win for the 24-7 Falcons, who can claim their first state title since 2007 and their third under coach Andy Hallett with a win on Wednesday at Fort Mill.
Loving went the distance, throwing a season high 112 pitches while improving his season record to 7-1. The senior left-hander is 3-0 in the playoffs and has opened the last two postseason phases with complete-game wins.
“I didn’t have too much left in the tank, but I’m glad I got the chance to finish it out myself,” said Loving. “I kept telling myself that this is the kind of opportunity I’ve waited four years to have and I wanted to make the most of it.”
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Hallett let his mainstay make the call.
“Player’s been our guy for three years, and we were able to set it up for him to open this series because we didn’t have to burn our pitching in the Lower State,” said Hallett. “I knew he was getting up there with the pitch count, but when I asked him if he could go in the seventh, he said ‘yes sir,’ and that was good enough for me.”
Loving struck out nine, but the Upper State champion Yellow Jackets had their chances. Fort Mill (26-6) put runners on base in every inning, but ended up stranding nine on the sacks.
“Fort Mill got guys on base, but the key was Players was really good at keeping their leadoff hitter off base,” said Hallett. “In today’s game, when you get the leadoff man on, you have options. Player took that away from them for the most part.”
Fort Mill had the leadoff man reach just one time. Loving also got strikeouts in key spots, and benefited from flawless defensive support.
“The two-seam fastball was good tonight, but the slider was my out pitch,” said Loving. “I kept them off balance with it all night, and got a lot of the strikeouts with it.”
The offensive highlight was a solo home run to left field by catcher David Houser in the third inning that upped the Flora lead to 2-0. The Falcons opened the scoring in the first on singles by Schroder Carlton and States Clawson and a passed ball that allowed Carlton to race home. Carlton doubled with one out in the fifth and eventually scored when Donald Gillespie drew a bases-loaded walk.