Lexington Stings Bengals in Game 1 of Title Tilt

Blythewood’s Derek Croxton is called out at first.

Monday evening, the third-ranked Blythewood Bengals baseball team traveled to top-ranked Lexington High School to take on the Wildcats in the first game of a three-game series for the 4A state championship. Blythewood (26-6) is making their first ever state title appearance and Lexington (27-4) is in the hunt for their fourth title in class 4A. The Wildcats played in the state finals in 2003 but came up empty and most recently won the championship in 1999. Blythewood’s head coach Barry Mizzell won a state championship with Orangeburg Prep in 1989 and with Richland Northeast in 2001. The two teams make up the first all-Midlands championship in 4A since Irmo defeated Spring Valley in 1998.

Despite scoring first, Blythewood fell in game one, 5-2. The Bengals first run came in the form of Andrew Beckwith after he reached on an error and scored on a squeeze play when Thomas Bessinger got the sacrifice bunt down. Lexington countered with a run in the bottom of the first to tie the score at 1-1. Ryan Brown led off with a single to center field and then the cleanup hitter, Zach Paquette, plated Brown with a single to left. That run broke a 22-inning scoreless streak by Bengals’ pitching. Blythewood pitchers also combined for a 25-inning scoreless streak in the month of March. Lexington took their first lead in the bottom of the second inning when the Bengals defense committed two errors to allow two runs to score, giving the Wildcats a 3-1 advantage.

“The teams that win this time of year are the ones that make the fewest mistakes,” Mizzell said. “We made our errors at key times and that’s what it boiled down to.”

Lexington added two more runs in the fourth inning after a leadoff walk, a triple and single. Beckwith (7-2) was hung with the loss after allowing five runs on eight hits, eight strikeouts and three walks in six innings of work. Blythewood threatened to rally in the fifth when Connor Grant led off with a single and then came home on an RBI double from D.J. Schofield to make the score 5-2. But the threat ended when Tyler Romanik hit into a controversial double-play with the bases loaded to end the inning. Romanik bounced one back to the pitcher who threw home for the force out and then the catcher relayed down the first baseline where Romanik was called out for running outside the base path.

“That was a big play at the time,” Lexington head coach Brian Houks said. “Josh (Reagan) was able to throw a pitch and induce the double play we needed to get out of the inning.”

Lexington’s starting pitcher Josh Reagan (10-0) earned the win to stay undefeated on the season and went all seven innings allowing two runs on five hits, one walk and six strikeouts in 99 pitches. He retired the last seven batters in a row to end the game as the Bengal hitters went down in order in the sixth and seventh innings. The Wildcats have been unbeatable at home during the last two seasons under Houks with a 24-0 record, but he knows playing at Blythewood for game two on Wednesday (May 15) will not be an easy task.

“It’s going to be a tough game at Blythewood I’m sure,” Houks said.

After the loss Mizzell knows focus is the key if the Bengals hope to keep their state championship dreams alive.

“We just have to refocus,” Mizzell said. “We’ve been through some adversity but our kids are tough and they’ll bounce back. We just have to focus on the next game and force that third game.”

The Bengals swept through the Upper State bracket, culminating in a 6-0 win Friday (May 10) over Wade Hampton to secure the Upper State title.

Friday’s game was scoreless until the fourth inning when Tyler Romanik scored the first run of the game to give the Bengals a 1-0 lead. Romanik led off the inning with a single back up the middle and eventually came home on a wild pitch. Blythewood added to their lead in the fifth after Ricky Kernan led off with double into the left field corner and then scored on an RBI single off the bat of Aaron Dahm. But with a 2-0 lead the Bengals finally broke the game open with four runs in the sixth inning. Blythewood benefitted off three straight hits then a walk, five stolen bases, an error and two wild pitches to seal their victory.

Wade Hampton’s starting pitcher, Tyler Thornton, allowed all six runs on eight hits, three walks and seven strikeouts, but threw four wild pitches. The guy on the mound for Blythewood was the complete opposite. Zack Hamilton went all seven innings for the Bengals allowing no runs on three hits, two walks and nine strikeouts in 107 pitches. The turning point for Hamilton was in the second inning. After giving up a couple of singles and a walk he left the bases loaded by getting a called third strike on Ridge Chapman.

Hamilton went on to retire 13 batters in a row and 16 of the final 17 he faced. He then put the exclamation point on his performance with a strikeout to end the game, which led to the Bengal players, coaches and fans storming the field to celebrate their upper state championship with a dog-pile on the pitcher’s mound. Through three games in the upper state bracket the Blythewood pitching staff threw 22 scoreless innings and shutout all three opponents.