The Hammond Skyhawks could not have asked for a more picturesque ending to their 2013 baseball season than the one they got Thursday night at Carolina Stadium.
Nor could senior right fielder Jae Roberts, who hit a walk-off home run 325 feet through a clear and starless sky into the stands beyond left field to cement a 7-4 victory for the Skyhawks in the eighth inning of the SCISA Class 3A championship game against Wilson Hall.
“I dreamed about this last night. I didn’t think it was going to happen,” said a teary-eyed Roberts, who was 0-3 before the homer. “I was just thinking ‘Don’t strike out. Put it in play.’ I was thinking of my teammates.”
“I didn’t know it was going to go over the fence. Just thank God. It’s really unreal,” he said.
Coach Ray Derrick said Roberts’ game-winner was emblematic of the kind of season the Skyhawks have had.
“With seven seniors, give them a chance to make it happen and they’re going to make it happen,” he said.
The title is Hammond’s first since 1999 and the first in Derrick’s tenure. It also makes the Skyhawks the only team in SCISA history to survive three three-game series to win the league title, according to league athletics director Mike Fanning.
Hammond lost the first game of the title series on May 13 at Wilson Hall, and battled back from a seven-run deficit to win 12-11 at home on Tuesday.
“I knew our guys weren’t through,” Derrick said. “We came to the ballpark today, and I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that these kids were ready.”
The Skyhawks took a 2-0 lead in the second inning with a triple from Harrison Long and a pop up into left center from Grant Hensley.
With a bunt single from Hensley and a Wilson Hall error on a Brooks Borders line drive, the Skyhawks led 4-1 after four.
But Wilson Hall hung four hits and three runs in the top of the fifth to knot the score.
Walker Patrick hit a lead-off single, Jay Goodson was walked and John Patrick Sears’ single to left loaded the bases before Hammond could get an out. Tripp Holstein started bringing in the runs with a single over the shortstop, and William Kinney followed with a line-drive single into left-center field. Pitcher Gordon Owens’ fly was good for the tying run. Pitching in relief for Hammond, senior Jake Nidiffer retired the next batter to avoid falling behind.
In the top of the seventh, a double play by the Skyhawks kept the Barons from moving ahead, and in the eighth, Wilson Hall’s efforts were thwarted when the Barons were called for batters’ interference after a Nidiffer strikeout.
In the final session, Long was hit by a pitch for a leadoff walk, and Borders was also walked. Batting fifth, Roberts walked to the plate with two outs.
Before the final at-bat, he and the coach had a short conversation.
“I was trying to keep him loose, so I just winked at him and said, ‘you do what you do.’ And when he was coming around third base, after he hit it, we just winked at each other again,” Derrick said.
Roberts said, “It’s amazing to be able to hit a home run to win a game my senior year, and I’m looking forward to helping South Carolina win in college.”