Bengals punch ticket to State

Blythewood claims Upper State Championship with 3-0 shutout of J.L. Mann

Michael Gregory went 2-2 at the plate with a double and triple. | Photos: Martha Ladd

BLYTHEWOOD – Two freshman pitchers and two big hits from Michael Gregory and Landon Lucas were just what Blythewood needed Wednesday night.

Davis Wright and Kevin Steelman combined for seven innings of shutout ball, Gregory tripled in a run in the third and Lucas hit a solo home run in the sixth, and the Bengals clinched their first upper state championship with a 3-0 victory over J.L. Mann.

“Unbelievable,” head coach Banks Faulkner said of Wright and Steelman’s 4-hitter. “They’ve got unbelievable poise and composure. They’re very mature beyond their years and we’ve got all the confidence in the world in them.”

Blythewood (25-8) will play Dutch Fork for the 5A state championship in a best-of-3 series. Game one will be at Blythewood Saturday at 7. Game two will be on the road for the Bengals Tuesday night. If necessary, the deciding game will be set at a neutral site Saturday.

“This just another step in the journey,” Faulkner said. “One of our goals in the offseason was to win the last game we played, and to do that, it’s going to take an unbelievable effort.”

“It’s been three long years”, Faulkner, who came to coach the program from Summerville in 2016, said. “When I got here this was such a young program that looked nothing like what I left. To see them get to this point has been a process, and we’ve had some guys that have been really committed to being great. It’s been gratifying to see them accomplish this after their hard work and dedication.”

Freshman Davis Wright picked up the win for the Bengals.

Wright, third in the team’s rotation, had six starts on the year, but he was still a little nervous in starting the upper state title game.

“A little bit but once I got through the first inning I was good to go,” Wright said. “It means a lot, all the work we put in, my dad, my mom supported me, all my coaches believed in me. They called the pitches and I executed, and it worked out for us.”

Gregory provided the run support in the second inning.

Nate Hinson led off the inning with a double and moved to third after Josh Cowan walked.

With two out, Gregory got to the plate and took a passed ball that enabled Hinson to score the first run. Gregory then lashed out a triple that easily scored Colton Harman, Cowan’s courtesy runner.

“It’s crazy, Gregory said. “The top of our order wasn’t performing very well at the beginning of the game and I knew I had to get something started. I went up, not worried, just trying to get the job done. I got a runner in scoring position and found a way to make it work.”

With two runs on the board, and later Lucas’ sixth-inning shot, Wright and Steelman made it work for them, too.

“That’s huge,” Gregory said. “They are both so talented, just being freshman and being able to have the poise to go out and combine for seven innings and that’s a huge stage for them.”

Wright worked a clean first inning. He gave up two hits in the second with one out before striking out two straight Patriots to get out of the jam. He got into trouble in the fourth inning but escaped a bases-loaded jam when Cody Nichols grounded into a fielder’s choice.

“Throughout the season I’ve been put out for about four innings,” Wright said. “Coach knows what he’s doing and he made the right move.”

Freshman Kevin Steelman (24)

Steelman found out he would take the mound last weekend, when assistant coach Trey Dyson was playing in a local golf tournament with Steelman’s dad.

“I was working there, and I went up to him and (Dyson) tossed me a baseball and told me to change my grips and stuff,” Steelman said. “He just told me to be ready because I would be playing on Wednesday.”

When Davis finished up, he set the stage for Steelman.

J.L. Mann’s Tomas Frick got on board with an error to lead off the inning, but Steelman got Reed Morrissey to hit into a 6-4-3 double play on the next at-bat. Ben Lumsden flied out in centerfield to end the inning.

The right-hander struck out two in the sixth and two more in the seventh innings—generally the territory for closer Josh Cowan, the team’s starting catcher. Because High School League rules wouldn’t allow Cowan to catch in the nightcap of a doubleheader if he pitched in the first game, Faulkner opted for Steelman to stay on the mound for as long as possible.

“The rule makes it difficult,” Faulkner said. “If we bring in Josh, and then things don’t happen to go our way, and we can’t use him (for the deciding game). It’s a really tough rule. We were prepared to go to Landon, not an ideal situation, but I felt like Kevin was in control of the game. We were gonna give him a base runner and just let him go.”

Steelman’s three innings of no-hit ball evaporated Mann’s chance of a comeback.

“It was crazy. It was scary.” Steelman said. “But I believed in my stuff and just went out there and did my job, threw strikes. My coaches are always building me up. Coach Dyson and Coach Faulkner they always believed in my stuff. I’ve been working on my changeup with Coach Dyson and it really paid off today.”

Now the Bengals set their sights on winning their last game of the season. The team knows all about Coach Faulkner’s ups and downs with the team over the last three years, and Gregory said Blythewood will do all it can to go one series further.

“He’s our coach,” Gregory said. “It doesn’t matter what happens, we all love him. It’s been three rough years, but we’re here.”

Blythewood 3, J.L. Mann 0

JLM – 0-0-0-0-0-0-0 – 0, 4, 0

BHS – 0-2-0-0-0-1-X – 3, 4, 2

WP: Davis Wright (6-2) LP: Freeman S: Kevin Steelman

Hitters: J.L. Mann – Blythewood – Michael Gregory 2-2, 3B, 2B. Landon Lucas HR (6). Nate Hinson 2B.