Chapin finished third in the Region 4-3A baseball race this season, but the Eagles did something Wednesday night that hasn’t been accomplished since 2011. The Eagles eliminated three-time defending state champion A.C. Flora 9-6 in the Upper State championship bracket and will face region foe Camden in another elimination contest on Friday.
“When you beat A.C. Flora, it’s an accomplishment,” Chapin coach Scott McLeod said. “Coach (Andy) Hallett is one of the best. You’ve seen their record, and we’ve come up short the last two or three years facing those guys. Our seniors have been waiting for this a long time. It’s nice to win this one. To beat them is special.”
The winner of Chapin and Camden will on Monday play Belton-Honea Path, a 6-2 winner over Camden on Wednesday night. BHP will need one win to advance while the winner of Friday’s game must defeat the Bears twice to move to the state championship series.
The loss by the Falcons ended a dominating stretch that saw them win the title each of the past three years and reach the Upper State finals for the 14th time under Hallett.
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“It’s definitely a different feeling.” Hallett said. “I can’t really tell you how I really feel, because I don’t really know. It’s been a wonderful ride. The kids have played hard, and we’ve been able to hoist some hardware. Tonight, we just couldn’t get that break.”
Chapin (15-12) lost twice in the regular season to A.C. Flora (18-11) but jumped on top early and withstood a late rally.
The Falcons scored one in the top half of the first on an RBI ground-rule double by Donald Gillespie but that lead was short-lived. After getting two quick outs in the bottom half of the inning, the Eagles got a walk and a single before Tyler White blasted a 3-run home run to straightaway centerfield.
A.C. Flora added one in the second inning after Bailey Mathews tripled and scored on an infield error. It stayed that way until the fourth.
The Eagles sent nine batters to the plate and scored four runs on three hits to increase the lead to 7-2. Two walks to open the inning ended the night for ACF starting pitcher John Durden before Chapin got an RBI ground out by Anthony Gonzales and run-scoring singles from Evan Macfie and Collin Santiago. Macfie scored the final run when he raced home from third on an errant pick-off attempt by the Falcons catcher.
But A.C. Flora answered back with a four-spot of their own and threatened to add more.
Watts Eaddy had a two-run single with Will Loving and Brendan Greene delivering run-scoring singles. It was 7-6 with the bases loaded when relief pitcher Drew Shealy got Cole Speedy to line out to first where Evan Estridge made a leaping, stabbing grab on a hard-hit ball to keep the one-run cushion.
Estridge added two insurance runs with a single in the fifth.
“You go back to (Tuesday) night, and if the ball Cole hits is three more inches away, it clears the bases and we’re at home tonight,” Hallett said. “The ball he hits down the first base line tonight, three more inches and it clears the bases and we’ve got the lead. That’s just baseball.”
Shealy, a senior, proved to be a calming influence. He pitched the final 22/3 innings and allowed two hits with three strike outs and no walks. He got a double play ball to end the sixth and then recorded two strikeouts to open the seventh before getting a ground ball to first to end it.
“Drew came in and settled us down,” McLeod said. “He’s a senior and been in the program for five years. He worked his way into pitching today, and he’s the guy that really helped win the ball game.”
Hallett thought Shealy was a difference-maker as well.
“He threw the ball really well, a little harder than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I think his velocity kind of got on us a little bit. ... It did a good job of settling things down for them.”
WP: Tyler White. LP: John Duren. Hitters: (C) Jordan O’Cain 2-3, Tyler White, 2-2, HR, 2B, 3 RBI; Evan Estridge 2-3. (ACF) Coleman Pope 2-4; Donald Gillespie 2-4.