Bengals win Diamond Invitational

The Blythewood Bengals are reigning kings of the 2018 SC Diamond Invitational after defeating Summerville in Sunday’s championship bout. | Worthy Evans

BLYTHEWOOD – Going into the South Carolina Diamond Invitational tournament, Blythewood head coach Banks Faulkner said the Bengals needed to work on defense.

The Bengals pre-tournament work was in display throughout the weekend, and it brought them to an 8-5 victory over Summerville Sunday in the championship game.

It’s the third SCDI win for the Bengals, who won in 2013 and again in 2014.

“It’s a big confidence boost for us,” Faulkner said of going 4-0 in the tournament. “We’ve really been close. We went back to playing old school fundamental baseball in practice. We talked about taking pride in doing things the right way and it showed.”

Diamond Invitational MVP Landon Lucas and head coach Banks Faulkner pose after topping some of the toughest competition in the state to claim this year’s Championship. | Worthy Evans

Landon Lucas, who was 2-4 with a grand slam home run in the second inning that turned the tables on the Green Wave, was named the tournament MVP. Lucas batted .385 for the tournament, with five hits, including two home runs, and eight RBI.

Lucas and the Bengals got the tournament started with a 2-0 shutout of Spartanburg Thursday and wins over T.L. Hanna (13-3) and Chapin (5-4) Friday. With Saturday off because of rain, Blythewood and the other seven teams of the field had the day off.

“We’ve been struggling a little bit as a team and stuff, but we just fought back,” Lucas said about his team’s foray into the tournament. “We’re a family and we’re closer than ever. We’re 4-0 in the past four games, and last year we didn’t win four games in a row. This year is a step forward, beating that good team (Summerville).”

Summerville took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, when Cole Messina and Brody Hopkins scored on Daniel Lloyd’s 2-out double.

Blythewood got a run back in the bottom of the first, when Josh Cowan scored on Brady Carson’s 2-out double. Bengals starting pitcher Alex Camino held the Green Wave scoreless in the second.

That’s when Blythewood struck back hard against Summerville starter Cameron Clark. The Bengals sent 11 men to the plate and brought in six runs, including Lucas’ grand slam.

Gregory Jordan had led off the inning with a double and later scored when Summerville misfielded Jordan Flemming’s bunt to make it 2-2.

Zac Cowan bunted safely and Josh Cowan drew a walk to load the bases for Lucas with nobody out. Lucas took a called strike, then slammed a fastball straight over the fence in left centerfield to make it 6-2 Bengals.

The ball bounces off the powerful bat of Brady Carson. | DeAnna Robinson

Later with one out, Ben Lang-Spittler reached on an error and scored on Brady Carson’s single to give Blythewood a 7-3 lead. Janson Stokes struck out for the second out, but Jordan’s second hit of the inning, a single, kept the inning alive. Flemming struck out with two runners on to retire the side.

Summerville got three runs back in the top of the third.

A.C. Heaton hit a one-out ground-rule double, then scored on Brody Hopkins’ single. Hopkins came in on Daniel Lloyd’s 2-run home run to cut Blythewood’s lead to 7-5.

Those were the last runs that the expended Blythewood pitching staff would allow. Camino made way in the fourth inning for Nate Hanson, and Hanson pitched until one out in the seventh. Tripp Reeves and Cole Riley finished the seventh, with Riley chalking up the save.

Riley came on with two runners on and nobody out in the seventh, but retired three straight batters, one on a strikeout, to seal the win.

“I’m really proud of Cole Riley,” Faulkner said. “That’s a kid who hadn’t had a lot of experience, and we put him in a tight spot and he handled it like a champ.”

Lang-Spittler’s solo home run that careened off the batter’s eye in straightaway centerfield in the fourth inning was the final run on the scoreboard.

The big hits were certainly sensational, and turned the tide against the Green Wave Sunday. But Faulkner liked seeing his team do the little things, such as executing back-to-back bunts in the second inning, turning a 6-4-3 double play in the fifth inning, and flawless baserunning until the sixth inning, when Blythewood had the bases loaded with one out, but ended the inning with a double pickoff.

“I think I’ve finally got them convinced that that stuff wins baseball games,” Faulkner said. “It’s taken a little time here, but we’re starting to see some signs of toughness and composure in tight spots.”

SHS – 2-0-3-0-0-0-0 –5, 8, 3

BHS – 1-6-0-1-0-0-x –8,12, 1

WP: Alex Camino LP: Cameron Clark S: Cole Riley

Hitters: Summerville – Daniel Lloyd 2-3, 2B, HR. Brody Hopkins 2-3. Blythewood – Brady Carson 3-4. Landon Lucas 2-4, HR, Ben Lang-Spittler 2-4, HR. Gregory Jordan 2B.