FLORENCE — Someone asked Gilbert baseball coach Ashley Burnett to name his most valuable player after his Indians rallied to beat the Dillon Wildcats 6-2 for the Class 2A baseball championship at West Florence High on Friday.
Burnett shot the works: “Can I pick two?” he asked.
With his third championship since 2004, Burnett could write his own ticket, and at the top of it was a pair of familiar names: right-handed pitcher Kyle Owings and center fielder Desmond Kennedy. The two were the backbone of Gilbert all season, so why not Friday night?
“Kyle threw on three days rest. He had a kind of rough first inning, but he settled in and did a great job,” said Burnett after his ace scattered eight Dillon hits to finish his season with a 9-1 mark.
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And Kennedy? After being limited to a single hit in Dillon’s 5-1 win on Wednesday, he broke loose, ripping three singles from his leadoff spot, driving in one run and scoring a run.
“I told Desmond ‘I need you on base three times tonight’, and he went 3-for-4,” Burnett said. “He did a fantastic job. When he gets on base, he can jump-start your offense, and that’s what he did.”
Gilbert, which wound up with a 26-5 record along with its trophy, got through a shaky first inning and shut the door on Dillon.
Dillon’s leadoff batter, Kyle Johnson, beat out an infield single to open the game, moved up on a bunt single by Dustin Britt, went to third on an error, and scored on a double-play. L’Twayne Thompson singled and scored on a single from Chris German.
“We knew coming in that we were going to have to score a lot of runs because we knew they could hit the ball,” Owings said. “I was a little worried, but I knew we were going to score some runs. I just tried to throw strikes and do what I’ve done all year.”
Owings struck out the side in the second, fanned two in the third and struck out five more in the last three innings. He wound up with 10 strikeouts.
Meanwhile, the defensive wheels came off for Dillon. Travis Murphy, who had pitched a two-hitter in Game 2, gave up only one run through two innings before he was tagged for a pair in the third.
“We just didn’t make the plays,” Dillon coach Gregg Dozier said. “Early in the game, I thought our pitching gave us a chance, and we kind of helped Gilbert out tonight. They’ve got too good a team to be helping them out.”
The Wildcats committed three errors, but had six wild pitches — to four Gilbert miscues and three wild pitches — so no one had much to brag on from an aesthetic standpoint.
Gilbert added a pair in the fifth on a leadoff double from Austin LaBounty, a one-out triple by Owings and a sacrifice by Adam Spires.
The last Indian run came in the sixth after Zach Lindler singled, moved up on a walk and scored on Kennedy’s third single of the night.
For the five Gilbert seniors, it was their second title in three years. For Kennedy, it was a last walk down memory lane.
“I was a little concerned early in the game, but then I thought about two years ago when we played Aynor for the championship,” Kennedy said. “They got us down 2-0, and we came back to win that game.
“I knew we were going to win. We just did what we were taught. We kept our eye on the ball and stayed focused.”
Reach McLaurin at (803) 240-3514.