Airport’s wild ride through the 2013 baseball season continued Wednesday with a 6-3 win over Swansea in the Sandlapper Invitational championship game at Gilbert.
The latest success left the young, surprising Eagles with a glittering 17-0 record entering the final phase of the regular season leading up to the start of the state playoffs. Airport resumes Region 5-3A play on April 9 against Strom Thurmond with a two-game lead over second-place Brookland-Cayce with four conference games to go.
“Last year it seemed we were playing not to lose games, and this year, boy, we are playing with such great confidence,” said second-year Eagles manager Tim Perry. “The guys have developed into what I call one-pitch warriors. By that I mean, win the next pitch no matter what happened on the pitch before. We’ve shown the ability to pick each other up game by game and we’ve shown we can handle adversity.”
Thursday’s championship game was a case in point.
Airport was cruising with a 3-0 lead for five innings with ace right-hander Austin Hawley had allowing just one hit and two Swansea batters to reach base. But the Tigers took advantage of some rare Airport miscues in the field to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth inning. Lyndon Jones was safe at first on an error to get things going for the Tigers, and he eventually scored on a two-out wild pitched with the bases load by Hawley. Chris Hammond followed with a clutch two-run single to plate Ryan McElveen and Jacob Smith with the equalizing runs.
The Eagles, however, offered a quick riposte – a winning, three-run burst in the top of the seventh against Corey Sox, Swansea’s No. 1 pitcher. Caleb Thomas started the rally with a one-out single and scored what proved to be the winning run on a booming double to the left-field fence by Taylor Key. Airport turned Swansea errors into two insurance runs scored by Key and Josh Tucker.
Hawley blanked the Tigers in the seventh to wrap up the team’s second tournament title of the season. The Eagles opened the campaign with a 4-0 showing at the Carolina Ale House Classic preseason event.
It was the third win of the season for the Eagles against the Tigers. Airport swept the two region meetings with shutout wins. Swansea was at least able to end a 19-inning scoreless streak against Eagle pitching.
“We had a good showing in the tournament, and hopefully we can keep it going for the rest of the regular season,” said first-year Tigers coach Joe Leo.
Swansea, a rebuilding team with just one senior in the starting lineup, stands at 6-11 overall, 2-5 in region matters. The Tigers are two games behind Gilbert and Strom Thurmond in the race for postseason invitations.
“We have three region games left and the way our region is set up right now anything is possible – we could finish as high as third or not make the playoffs at all,” said Leo. “The good thing is we have our fate in our own hands for the most part.”