Airport bests Redhawks in Round 1

Seniors Matthew Oxendine, Ethan Barton, Elijah Heatley and Bryce Henson pose before their senior night contest against the Ridge View Blazers. Their 9-1 victory over the Blazers punched the Redhawks’ ticket to the playoffs. | Leroy Howard

WEST COLUMBIA – Westwood stayed close to Region IV-4A champion Airport Tuesday, probably too close for the Eagles comfort.

Pitcher Matthew Oxendine kept Airport batters guessing through five innings, but the Redhawks couldn’t get a run across and the Eagles slipped away with a 3-0 victory in the District IV Tournament.

Thursday, top-seeded Airport (22-3) will play host to the winner of Wednesday’s Belton-Honea Path-Greer matchup.

Fourth-seeded Westwood will go on the road to play the loser of that game in the double-elimination tournament.

Oxendine worked 5 2/3 innings for the Redhawks (6-18), and only got into trouble in the sixth inning. He gave up all three runs on seven hits, but struck out seven and walked just one.

As steady as Oxendine was, Airport starter Justin Allen was a little steadier. Allen pitched a complete-game shutout, five-hitting the Redhawks, striking out 10 and walking one.

For as strong as Allen was on the mound for the Eagles, Westwood did create some chances, but none were plated.

Elijah Heatley (14) takes a deep cut in one of his last at bats in front of his Westwood family on Senior Night. | Leroy Howard

Leadoff batter Edwin Olmeda got the game started with a strong single up the middle, but he and Brandon Anderson went down when Airport executed a 3-4-3 double play. Elijah Heatley ended the inning with a strikeout.

Joseph Beckett led off the second inning with a strong single, but when he tried to stretch it to a double, rightfielder Bradley Burnham gunned him down at second.

Down 2-0 in the sixth inning, Westwood used two Airport mistakes get two baserunners with nobody out.

Joseph Gonzales swung and missed on a third strike, but catcher Simms Owens couldn’t pick the ball out of the dirt. Gonzales easily reached first by the time Owens found a handle near the backstop to make a throw.

Olmeda reached base on an infield error.

But just as Westwood was looking to tie the game and really put a scare into the Eagles crowd, the spark got snuffed out.

Gonzales jumped for third on a wild Burnham pitch to Anderson, but Owens got a quick handle on the ball this time and fired to Cam Beckham at third. Beckham put the tag on Gonzales for the first out.

Anderson eventually drew a walk to put runners at first and second with one out, but Burnham struck out Heatley and Joseph Bennett to end Westwood’s hopes to get at least a couple of runs.

The Eagles, who had picked up a run in the third and a run in the fifth for the 2-0 lead, chased Oxendine from the mound, but only got one run out of its turn at bat.

Oxendine struck out Justin Allen for the first out, but with two out and Sam LaFrage at second after a single and a stolen base, Dalton Mims singled him in for the third run of the game.

Justin McGee then singled and Oxendine walked Owens to load the bases. John Janco came on to get Brandon Caughman to fly out and retire the side.

The Redhawks tried one last time to get a run across in the seventh. Bryant Williams drilled a one-out double to the leftfield wall. Later, Oxendine singled to left to put two runners on for Gonzales.

Gonzales worked the count full, but Burnham got enough of the inside of the plate for a called third strike to end the game.

 WHS – 0-0-0-0-0-0- 0 – 0, 5, 0

AHS – 0-0-1-0-1-1-0 – 3, 7, 1

 WP: Justin Allen LP: Matthew Oxendine

Hitters: Westwood – sfo. Westwood – Matthew Oxendine 2-3. Bryant Williams 2B.