A.C. Flora started the season as state champions. They ended it the same way.
Led by Donald Gillespie’s five RBIs, the A.C. Flora Falcons defeated the Airport Eagles, 11-3, at Airport High on Monday night to clinch the Class 3A state championship for the second consecutive year.
“You might as well just write ‘clutch,’ ” Falcons coach Andy Hallett said of Gillespie. “Every time we need him to come up big, he does. That’s a testament to that kid. We changed the lineup around, dropped him in the three-hole and the first thing he does is hit a two-run homer.”
Gillespie, the junior third-baseman and catcher, hit a two-run homer on his first at-bat to give the Falcons a first-inning lead. Gillespie, who was 2-for-2 on the night, added a two-run double and a sacrifice fly.
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“It felt amazing,” Gillespie said. “Every at bat, I wanted to just keep my composure and make sure I did the best I could do. Without my teammates, I don’t think I could have done it. They kept me up the whole time.”
The Falcons started to pull away in the second inning, then put the game out of reach in the fourth.
After the Eagles tied the score at 2, Sam Anderson produced a groundout RBI, Jake Lewis added a run-scoring single and Everett Eynon capped the scoring with a run-scoring double to give A.C. Flora a 5-2 lead after two.
Two innings later, Sam Anderson was hit by a pitch and scored on a double to center by Lewis. Everett Eynon hit a line drive over the mound for a single to bring up Gillespie, who smashed a two-run double to right-center to make it 8-2. The Falcons added their final two runs of the inning on a groundout by Schroder Carlton and an RBI single by Jack Hudgens.
Airport starting pitcher Austin Hawley (10-3) allowed eight runs on seven hits in three-plus innings.
The Falcons used four pitchers, getting solid relief performances from Austin Beskid, — who tossed two hitless innings with three strikeouts — and closer Matt Wallace — who faced the minimum over the final three frames and struck out three.
“I think their pitching slowed our offense,” Airport coach Tim Perry said. “They’ve got a plethora of good arms over there, and Matt Wallace is one of the top guys we’ve faced all year.”
Early on, it seemed the Eagles would keep pace with the Falcons. Down 2-0 in the bottom of the first, Airport got a leadoff single from Casey Parker before Jacob Shirey drew a walk. Caleb Talton knocked in both runs with a double down the left-field line to tie the score. Talton was the Eagles’ leading hitter, going 3-for-3.
“Every time they scored a run, we answered. And let me tell you, that was huge,” Hallett said.
The Eagles posted their third and final run on a sacrifice fly from Josh Tucker.
Perry said the Eagles would accentuate the positives from this season, which included a school record 26 wins and the program’s first Lower State title in 29 seasons. The Eagles, who won five games a year ago, return several of their top performers, including Hawley and an all-freshmen starting outfield.
“The future is bright for Airport,” he said.
For A.C. Flora, it was their fourth state crown, joining titles from 2001, ’07 and ’12. It was the Falcons’ seventh state championship appearance.
The Falcons, this year’s Upper State champions, won last year’s state title as the Lower State contender, a feat which might never have happened before in Class 3A.
“It’s great man. It’s special to win back to back. And I think we might have made history tonight,” Hallett said.