Bengals fall to Dutch Fork in title game

Blythewood Principal Matthew Sherman accepts the SCHSL 5A State Runner Up trophy as the Bengals, Athletic Director Barry Mizzell and R2 Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis look on.

COLUMBIA – For the better part of a season, the Blythewood baseball team made a living out of guts and pulling victory from defeat.

In the deciding game of the best-of-3 5A state championship series Friday night at the Columbia Fireflies’ Segra Park, the Bengals fell one round of the bases short of clinching a state title.

John Lanier (21) tries to ignite a rally in the bottom of the seventh.

With Blythewood down 2-1 with two out in the bottom of the seventh, John Lanier caught hold of a Sam Hatcher fastball and drove it deep into rightfield. Dutch Fork’s Brice Alexander was in a position to end the game right then, but Blythewood stayed alive when the ball ricocheted off the top of the webbing on the outfielder’s glove.

Lanier raced for second and easily made it.

Brady Beasley stepped in the batter’s box, and worked up a 2-2 count. When Hatcher delivered another offspeed pitch, Beasley swung on with the intent of driving a ball far enough to get the tying run across the plate.

He missed, and so too did the Bengals, who fell 2-1.

“We did a good job managing it, keeping within striking distance,” said Blythewood head coach Banks Faulkner, whose team excels at bunting and base running, with an occasional reach for extra bases. “We did have a lot of opportunities and the things we pride ourselves on we weren’t very good at tonight, and it’s a hard lesson.”

Brady Beasley (11)

In the three games against the Silver Foxes (24-10), Blythewood accounted for just four runs to Dutch Fork’s nine. Even so, the Bengals (25-10) stayed close. Only once—in the ninth inning of the first game of the series they won 2-1 on May 11—could they find a game-winning base-running and hitting combination.

Blythewood fell 6-1 at Dutch Fork Wednesday to force Friday night’s game. Bengals and Silver Foxes fans filled the bowl of the 9,000-plus capacity stadium and lounged in the picnic areas, hanging onto strikeouts and a couple of pushes home.

While Blythewood came up short in its final game of the season, Faulkner said the younger players who came up a circle of the bases short of winning a state title will have the resolve to work toward that end—if they can be leaders.

“We’ve got a really good group coming back but we graduate some key leaders, Faulkner said. “The key to next year’s team will be to find leadership. We’ve got some really good players, but that’s a lot more, and that was what was so special about this team.”

Added Faulkner, “Their resolve and their leadership and the way they bounced back, they were a pleasure to coach, probably my favorite team I’ve ever coached.”

For Dutch Fork, which had to bounce back from the losers’ bracket in its district tournament and in the lower state tournament, the moment was as sweet as it was bitter for the Bengals.

“We’re living the dream tonight,” Silver Foxes head coach Casey Waites said. “You got two teams who are known for hitting a baseball. We’re living the dream with these guys right here. We’d expected to do this a long time ago. Our guys bringing a state championship to Dutch Fork baseball love it, love it.”

Harrison Lambert (13) scores to tie the game at 1 in the bottom of the second.

Dutch Fork took a 1-0 lead in the second when Noah Jackson scored on a Lucas’ 2-out wild pitch to Brice Alexander. Alexander later singled, but Jalon McDuffie grounded out to end the inning.

Blythewood got that run back in the bottom of the second. Harrison Lambert legged out an infield hit and Nate Hinson reached on an error, and Zach Bailes walked to load the bases with two out. As Lucas batted, Lambert scored on a botched pickoff attempt with the bases loaded.

Dutch Fork got another run in the fourth inning when Jackson hit a 1-out double into the left centerfield gap and moved to third on a passed ball. Crosby Jones plated Jackson with a single to right.

That run turned out to be all the Silver Foxes needed.

Lucas walked Lance Fuhr to put runners at first and second with one out, but he recovered and struck out Alexander and got McDuffie to ground out to John Lanier at first.

The Blythewood bats lay silent for the next three innings, as Webb and the Silver Foxes retired nine straight batters from the second to the fifth innings. Lucas reached on a walk and Lanier singled with two out in the bottom of the fifth, which signaled the end of Webb’s night.

When Sam Hatcher came on the mound in relief, he went up 0-2 on Michael Gregory, then got him to hit a short grounder that second baseman Noah Jackson scooped up and fired to Ryan Helms at first for the third out.

Josh Cowan (6) took the mound in the seventh.

Blythewood finally caught a break when Brady Beasley led off the sixth with a single, Jansen Stokes bunted him over to second, and Lambert’s one-out single to right put runners at first and third.

A go-ahead inning was not to be for the Bengals, as Nate Hinson struck out and Josh Cowan ended the inning on an infield pop-up.

“Ice in his veins, his pitches,” Waites said of Henry, who with the Silver Foxes defense snuffed out three potential rallies. “He doesn’t try to overpower people, he throws his curveball, his changeup, threw a couple of fastballs, awesome job.”

Thus, Dutch Fork came into the seventh with its 2-1 lead intact. In the top of that inning Bengals catcher Josh Cowan took over on the mound for reliever Kevin Steelman. Cowan got Jay Metts and Ty Olenchuk to fly out. He hit Hugh Ryan, but Ryan Helms grounded out to set up Blythewood’s last effort.

“They fought till the last out,” Faulkner said. “I told them I was proud of them and I love them. Sometimes the game is cruel and the pain will take a while, but we’ve gotten the program back the way it should be. We’ll win a state championship at Blythewood, and when we do, it’s gonna be because of this game.”


DUTCH FORK – 0-1-0-1-0-0-0 – 2, 4, 1

BLYTHEWOOD – 0-1-0-0-0-0-0 – 1, 6, 0

WP: Doug Webb LP: Landon Lucas

HITTERS: Dutch Fork – Noah Jackson 2-3, 2B. Blythewood – John Lanier 2-4, 2B.

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