Bengals Survive Playoff Scares to Advance

The Bengals celebrate after a walk-off win against Fort Mill.

The Blythewood Bengals baseball team (22-4, 10-0) began their 2013 playoff run last Thursday (April 25) with a dramatic 6-5 win over the Yellow Jackets of Fort Mill (14-10). It took three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning for the Bengals to come out on top and head coach Barry Mizzell wasn’t surprised at how competitive Fort Mill was.

“They’re a good team and play in good region,” Mizzell said. “They’ve been hot lately and we knew it was going to be a tough game.”

Blythewood trailed 5-2 heading into the sixth inning but the resilient Bengals impressed Mizzell with their never say die attitude.

“It would have been easy for our guys to quit,” Mizzell said. “They hit us hard and put pressure on us but our kids just didn’t quit.”

At the end of the regular season Blythewood coasted through region play undefeated and at times appeared lackadaisical. However, the Bengals found their fire late in their first-round playoff game and found their way back into their coach’s good graces.

“We were focused and ready to play,” Mizzell said. “I was really impressed with their attitudes and how they hung in there and found a way to win it.”

Fort Mill struck first when Kevin Woods led off the game with a home run that he powered to the opposite field. Blythewood’s starting pitcher Andrew Beckwith (6-1) didn’t let the solo shot affect his psyche because he responded with three straight groundouts to get out of the inning down just 1-0. That lead was short lived for the Yellow Jackets because Beckwith would even the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the first with his first homer of the season. In the second inning the Bengals would take their first lead. Derek Croxton smoked a leadoff double to left and eventually came home on an error by Fort Mill’s starting pitcher Jake Windham. Trailing 2-1, the big inning for the Yellow Jackets came in the fourth when they sent 10 batters to the plate and scored four runs off six hits to jump out in front of Blythewood 5-2. Beckwith would go a total of five and two thirds innings allowing five runs on 13 hits, two walks and five strikeouts. Beckwith gave way to Allen Louthian (4-1), who earned the win in relief in the sixth inning and Mizzell believes that was a key turning point in the Bengals come from behind victory.

“Allen is an unsung hero,” Mizzell said. “He came in and was huge for us.”

Louthian struck out Clay Helvey to end the sixth inning and left the bases loaded. In the bottom of the sixth inning it would be Beckwith to leadoff and start the Bengals’ rally with a double to the gap in left field. Beckwith finished 3-for-3 at the plate with a walk, a single, a double, a home run, two runs batted in and two runs scored. Out of the cleanup spot, Thomas Bessinger plated Beckwith with an RBI single to close the gap on Fort Mill making the score 5-3. The Yellow Jackets did threaten in the top half of the seventh with two runners on and two outs, but Louthian won the battle against Jaden Savage who grounded out on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning. With the Bengals down to their last three outs and trailing 5-3, Ryan Malone and Ricky Kernan (the eighth and ninth hitters respectively) picked the most opportune time to come up with their first hits of the ball game as they each blooped a single into the outfield. Malone scored on an RBI single by Beckwith and Kernan came home on an error by the right fielder to tie the score at 5-5. With the bases loaded and two outs, sophomore Connor Grant stepped to the plate and earned the game winning RBI off a fielder’s choice. Grant smashed a pitch right to the shortstop but Derek Croxton was able to beat out the force play at second and the Bengals come from behind victory was complete by a score of 6-5.

“Baseball is a funny game,” Mizzell said. “I told them that this time of year it doesn’t matter how you win you just have to win and move on.”

Twenty-four hours later, with a spot in the district IV championship on the line, Blythewood was forced to deal with the Bulldogs of Boiling Springs who were coming off a 2-0 win over T.L. Hanna. Despite the quick turnaround, Mizzell was looking forward to play again.

“This time of year we’d rather play than practice,” Mizzell said. “And after the game against Fort Mill we’re excited to take the field again and keep the momentum going.”

Boiling Springs defeated Blythewood 5-4 in the 2012 playoffs, but in 2013 it would be the Bengals walking away with a 1-0 victory in extra innings. The pitching duel lasted nine innings and the two teams combined for 13 hits (seven by Boiling Springs and six by Blythewood).

“Pitching-wise it was a terrific game,” Mizzell said. “Both sides couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

Boiling Springs’ starter Matthew Justice went all nine innings allowing one run on six hits, two walks and four strikeouts on 107 pitches. Neither team sent more than five batters to the plate in an inning and Blythewood hitters struggled to record hits against Justice, but Mizzell had faith the Bengals would come through.

“We had several balls hit hard that were just finding people,” Mizzell said. “But we told our guys to just keep hitting it and they would fall.”

The ball finally fell for Bessinger when he doubled off the right field wall to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning. Bessinger moved to third on a groundout and with two outs Chaz Mizzell hit a hot shot that the shortstop couldn’t handle and Bessinger came home for the winning run.

“Just win is the motto,” Mizzell said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s 10-0 or 1-0, just win and move one. This is the playoffs and it’s going to be a big play here or there to decide the game and you never know where it’s going to occur.”

Zack Hamilton started the game on the mound for the Bengals and went four innings allowing no runs on five hits, no walks and six strikeouts in 60 pitches. Hamilton struck out five of the first 11 batters he faced but Mizzell called on Louthian in the fifth inning with two runners on and no outs. Louthian earned the win out of the bullpen for the second straight night and Mizzell is confident and comfortable when calling on his right handed hurler.

“Allen did a great job,” Mizzell said. “He has pitched well all year long and has earned our trust. We’re confident in throwing him out there in any situation.”

Louthian went five innings giving up just two hits and struck out 10 of the 19 batters he faced. With the win the Bengals advanced to the district IV championship game and were scheduled to face the winner between Boiling Springs and Fort Mill on Wednesday (May 1).

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