With two outs in the eighth inning of the Class 4A, District 5 championship game, Lexington’s Zach Paquette was begging coach Brian Hucks for a chance to win the game.
It didn’t take much prodding from the senior, and when the opportunity presented itself, the result made Paquette, Hucks and the rest of the Wildcats look like river boat gamblers.
Paquette executed a perfectly timed delayed steal of home to give Lexington a wild 7-6 victory against Lugoff-Elgin on Thursday night to advance the Wildcats to the Lower State Championship bracket for the second consecutive year.
“We had talked about it the hitter before,” Hucks said. “He said, I think I got it. It was a perfect pitch, a slow breaking ball, and the catcher kind of stuck it, didn’t check him, went to his knees and sort of lobbed it back to the mound. It wasn’t even really that close at the plate.”
The eighth inning turned into the Paquette show. He led off the frame by singling to right field. He advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Cole McMillan before he stole third base with one out. A fly out to short right field was not deep enough for Paquette to attempt to score, but it was three more pitches before he made his move.
Brandon Camp, a pinch-hitter, went to a 1-1 count when pitcher Taylor Lundsford threw a slow breaking ball on the outside corner for a called strike. When the Demons’ catcher went to a knee and lobbed the ball back to Lundsford, Paquette broke for home and easily beat the throw back to the plate.
“When coach sent Brandon up to hit, I told him I got it, I got it,” Paquette said. “He said he wanted to give Brandon a chance to hit. When he got in the 1-1 count, coach Hucks told me if I got it, to take it. But he did say if I didn’t make it, we’ll lose this game. He put the trust in me, I knew I had it and as soon as the catcher dropped down I took off.”
Lugoff-Elgin coach Randy Stokes warned his team a few pitches before the steal that the Wildcats might try something unorthodox.
“We had just talked about it and thought it was something they might try if the batter got two strikes on him,” Stokes said.
The Demons (12-15) won an extra-inning contest over Ashley Ridge the night before and rallied from six runs down to take the top-ranked Wildcats to extra innings. They way it ended added extra hurt to the wound.
“The steal wasn’t what cost us the game,” Stokes said. “The first two innings cost us. We were unfocused, and you can’t do that against a quality program like Lexington.”
Lexington (23-4) jumped to a 6-0 lead after two innings. Two infield singles and a passed ball put runners at second and third with no outs in the Wildcats’ first inning. Nick Ciuffo followed with a RBI ground out before Paquette, who was 3-for-4, delivered an RBI single to center. He came around to score when an errant pick-off throw to first went way down the right-field line.
The Wildcats added three more runs in the second. Cody Smith delivered an RBI double and Ryan Brown reached on catcher’s interference. Those two executed a double steal to move to second and third, and both scored on Dalton Addy’s suicide squeeze play. Brown never hesitated leaving from second and scored easily.
“We had a two-RBI squeeze, and three or four bunt hits,” Hucks said. “There are going to be times you don’t swing it real well — it wasn’t one of our better offensive nights — but we found a way with the small ball to get it done.”
Lugoff-Elgin fought back with two runs in each of the third, fourth and fifth innings. The final three hitters in the Demons order — Deione Gridine, Blake Serpas and Hunter McManus — combined to go 6-for-11 with three RBIs.
“I’m so proud of our kids battling back,” Stokes said. “We easily could have said this is the No. 17 team in the country and No. 1 team in the state and it just wasn’t going to happen. But they showed a lot of heart.”
Jordan Buster (4-1) earned the win by pitching one inning of relief with three strikeouts.
W: Jordan Buster (4-1). L: Taylor Lunsford. Hitters: L-E–Blake Serpas 2-4, Austin Hayes 2-4, Hunter McManus 2-3. L–Zach Paquette 3-4. Buster 2-3.