Airport earned its first state baseball title shot in 29 years on Monday, downing Socastee 2-0 in the second game of the Class 3A Lower State championship doubleheader.
Socastee forced a second game by blowing the Eagles away 12-1 in the opener. But Tim Perry’s resilient team rebounded with a typical businesslike performance with the pressure on to clinch a spot in the finals against defending champion A.C. Flora.
Junior ace Austin Hawley was the star on the mound, and had just enough offensive and defensive backing to get the job done.
Airport (26-4) opens the best-of-three championship series Thursday at Flora’s Falcon Field.
“This team has a knack for bouncing back; that’s what makes it so special,” said Perry. “To see the way Austin Hawley came out and changed all the momentum that Socastee had after the first game was something to see. Wow!”
Hawley threw a three-hitter, but was not exactly dominating thanks to one walk and three hit batsmen.
Socastee, in fact, had plenty of chances to get to Hawley, but never did. In the end, the Braves left two runners on base in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings.
The best chance to get to Hawley was in the fifth when Socastee had a runner on third base with one out. Airport played the infield back, essentially conceding a run on a ground ball in the infield. Instead, Hawley fanned Jason Farria on a 3-2 count with high fastball for a huge out and ended the threat after plunking another Braves batter with a pitch by inducing a infield pop out.
“I was just trying to make good pitches when I was in trouble,” said Hawley. “I wasn’t looking for strikeouts, I wanted to have them put the ball in play because I knew my teammates had my back.”
Hawley was also key in Airport’s decisive two-run burst in the top of the fourth inning.
Taylor Key drew a leadoff walk and Hawley followed with a ground rule double to left field against Socastee starter Dylan Thomas. After Kyle Smith relieved Thomas, Key scored on a ground out to the right side by Josh Tucker. Courtesy runner Brandon Fowler came in on a sacrifice fly to center field off the bat of Caleb Morris.
“That was a great display of the kind of situational hitting we’ve been preaching all season,” said Perry. “We won tonight the way we’ve been winning all season. We pitch well, play defense well and do the little things that make a difference between winning and losing.
“Hopefully, we can keep it up for a couple of more games, but no matter what happens from here it’s been a great ride.”
Airport did little right in the opener. Pitcher Forrest Arnold struggled in his first loss of the season, the defense was guilty of five errors and the offense produced two hits and one run - on a first-inning home run by Caleb Talton – against Socastee left-hander Austin Schmitz.