Bengals look to bounce back from Game 2 loss

Jansen Stokes (16) beats the pickoff attempt. | Photos: Ross Burton

IRMO – From the first pitch, almost nothing went well for Blythewood Tuesday night at Dutch Fork.

Bengals ace left-hander John Lanier hit a batter on the first pitch of the game, and then hit another batter, as the Silver Foxes uncorked a 4-run first inning in Game 2 of the 5A state championship series.

With the Silver Foxes holding an early lead, Ty Olenchuk took the mound and five-hit the Bengals to ensure a 6-1 victory and force a deciding game of the best-of-three championship series.

John Lanier (21)

“It’s pretty simple,” Blythewood head coach Banks Faulkner said about what he told the team after the loss. “If you told us before the season that we got to sign up for a winner-take-all game for a state championship we’d have taken it every day. Baseball is played in series, and we’ve never lost more than one in a row. We like our team. We think our team is built for this. We’ll bounce back and be ready to go Friday.”

Blythewood (25-9) and Dutch Fork (23-10) square off at the Columbia Fireflies’ Segra Park at 7 p.m. Friday for the 5A championship.

“We’re not there yet,” Dutch Fork head coach Casey Waites said. “Someone is going to win and somebody is going to lose Friday. But I just knew these guys would show up today and play, that’s what they do. My motto right now is keep playing, keep playing, we’ll see what happens.”

Getting to Lanier early enabled the Silver Foxes to keep playing.

Lanier, who came into the game with an earned-run average well below 1.00 for the year, had two men on base after just five pitches. Brian Helms singled to load the bases with nobody out.

Things got much worse for Lanier on one pitch to Noah Jackson.

Jackson’s single into the left centerfield gap drove in the hit batters, Hugh Ryan and Jay Kirkland, the courtesy runner for Ty Olenchuk.

With the Silver Foxes up 2-0 with one out, Lance Fuhr drove in Helms and Jackson with a double to the wall in right center to make it 4-0 Silver Foxes.

“Tough,” Faulkner said of the first-inning situation. “We gave them two free bases and credit their hitters, they’ve got a good lineup and they got two key hits when they had to. With their guy on the mound it makes it tough when you’re trying to chase four runs early.”

Waites said that seeing his team score in a bases-loaded first inning was a good feeling. Dutch Fork was in similar situation at Blythewood Saturday, but the Bengals got out of the jam with no score. Blythewood went on to win 2-1 in nine innings.

“That was super big,” Waites said about the first-inning surge Tuesday night. “We didn’t score runs last time, we loaded the bases with no outs, and you don’t want that to happen again. That was super big to jump out early and let them know that we can hit the ball a little bit.”

Lanier recovered enough to strike out Price Alexander and get Jalen McDuffie to line out, but he never settled in.

After Blythewood got a run on Harrsion Lambert’s 2-out single in the top of the second inning, the Bengals starter gave up a run on two hits in the bottom of that frame. He made way for freshman reliever Kevin Steelman after facing three batters in the third and loading the bases.

Kevin Steelman (24)

Steelman put out the fire in the third. Jay Metts scored Crosby Jones on a one-out sacrifice fly, but Steelman got Olenchuk to ground out and get Blythewood out of another potential disaster.

Steelman pitched three full innings and made way for Alex Canino to start the sixth inning. Canino gave up Dutch Fork’s only hit after the Silver Foxes pounded Lanier, but the Blythewood offense never came around.

Olenchuk, the left-hander who, as quarterback, had led the Silver Foxes to their third straight state football title last fall, easily moved past Blythewood batters. He got the Bengals to fly out 12 times, scattered five hits, struck out seven, and walked two.

“That’s Ty being Ty,” Waites said. “We’ve got a couple of other guys we think can pitch too, we like Doug (Webb) and we’ve got another couple of relievers for Game 3, but that’s a typical Ty performance, he always likes the big stage no matter what he does.”

Olenchuk himself doesn’t duck from his eagerness to be in clutch moments.

“I’ve been in big time situations winning in football three years in a row, and every big game in the playoffs and you start to get used to it,” Olenchuk said. “All of our confidence helped us out. It’s a comfort level. Some guys have never been here (to a state title game) and they can get shook. But having that big game experience is just incredible to have under my belt.”

Blythewood hurt after the loss, but Faulkner, in his third year with the program, said he’s confident that this particular bunch of Bengals will be ready to play Friday.

“We’ve got to come out and do what we do,” Faulkner said. “Momentum starts on the mound and we‘ve got all our pitchers available. We’ll throw the kitchen sink at ’em and we’ll be ready to go. This team has incredible leadership. They’ve gone through adversity and bounced back like champs. I’ve got no doubt they’ll do that Friday night.”

Dutch Fork 6, Blythewood 1

Blythewood – 0-1-0-0-0-0-0-0-0 – 1, 5, 2

Dutch Fork – 4-1-1-0-0-0-0-0-0 – 6, 9, 0

WP: Ty Olenchuk LP: John Lanier

Hitters: Blythewood – Brady Beasley 2-3. Dutch Fork – Brian Helms 2-3, 2B. Lance Fuhr 2-3, 2B.