Blythewood claims Game 1 of the 5A championship series

Michael Gregory (12) scores from Zach Bailes’ walk-off single to give the Bengals the 2-1 win in the ninth. | Photos: Martha Ladd

BLYTHEWOOD – Zach Bailes’ last hit in his home ballpark was a bouncer up the middle that barely made it to the outfield.

For the Bengals, that little hit Bailes cracked with two out in the bottom of the ninth was the shot heard ’round the Midlands.

Zach Bailes (7) was 2-5 on the night.

Bailes hit a 1-0 pitch hard back to the mound, but neither relief pitcher Andrew Fulmer nor second baseman Noah Jackson could get a handle on it. As the ball bounced beyond second base, Michael Gregory easily made his way home to clinch a 2-1 Game One victory in the best-of-three series in the last game of the season at Bengals Field.

“It was the ninth inning and rain was coming, I just figured we may as well go home,” Bailes said. “Rain was coming, I heard the thunder. I just did everything to get a hit there.”

The play happened as Blythewood head coach Banks Faulkner signaled Gregory to go for home and for courtesy runner Mulukan Hass to break for second.

“We were grasping for it there,” Faulkner said. “Michael Gregory does what he’s done all season. He comes up with a huge hit with two outs and we took a chance there—sort of who we are—we took a chance running them there, and it was just an incredible job by our guys finding a way to win.”

The walk-off win erased a strong performance from Dutch Fork left-hander Sam Hatcher. Hatcher worked eight full innings, scattered six hits and struck out four. He threw 101 pitches and picked off or stranded eight Blythewood baserunners from the second through the sixth inning.

“Hats off to their kid, I thought he competed,” Faulkner said. “He did a good job keeping us off balance. We just could not scratch a run there in the middle innings. It was almost a relief to get him off the mound and see a different arm.”

Blythewood (26-8) travels to Dutch Fork (22-11) Tuesday at 7 for the second game. Winning Saturday obviously was advantageous for the Bengals, but the team knows the season isn’t finished.

“It’s big,” Faulkner said about Saturday. “Anytime you win the first one, it’s huge. We like our position, but we know we’re going to go into a hornets’ nest Tuesday night against a really good team. We’ll face a really, really good arm and we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Bailes’ hit gave the win to closer Josh Cowan, his first of the year. Cowan came on in relief of starting pitcher Landon Lucas, who worked 7 1/3 innings and pitched five innings of no-hit ball after giving up Dutch Fork’s only run in the second. Cowan also no-hit the Silver Foxes over his 1 2/3 innings on the mound.

Lucas and Cowan frustrated the Dutch Fork bats after the Silver Foxes got a run on Jay Metts’ sacrifice fly that scored Brice Alexander. After that play, the pitchers retired the next 22 batters.

Landon Lucas (4) worked 7.2 innings on the mound in Game One, allowing only two hits and one run.

“Landon kept it tight, pitched great the whole game, Josh came in and shut it down,” Bailes said about the pitchers holding off. “It was a great team effort, Mulukan running to second hard helped us, everyone before me getting on base helped.”

Dutch Fork actually got to Lucas early, getting its first three batters, Ty Olenchuk, Hugh Ryan, and Brian Holmes to reach base with a walk, a single and an error, respectively.

From there, Lucas stuck out Noah Jackson and Crosby Jones, then tossed Lance Fuhr’s shot back to the mound to first baseman John Lanier to get the third out.

After putting Blythewood on the scoreboard with a solo home run in his team’s half of the first, Lucas gave up a hit to Alexander and saw Jaylen McDuffie reach on an error with nobody out. Metts drove a long fly ball out to centerfield for Nate Hinson to glove, and that enabled Alexander to tie the game at 1.

Lucas then got Olenchuk to pop out and Ryan to ground out to retire the side.

“It goes to my teammates making the plays,” Lucas said about his mound performance. “I didn’t make as many strikeouts as I would’ve liked, but they just hung in there and made the plays for me.”

From the second inning onward, Dutch Fork had just one baserunner, Jones. Jones reached base on a catcher’s interference call with two out in the ninth.

Cowan got Fuhr to hit into a fielder’s choice to retire the side in the ninth and set up Blythewood’s last offensive effort.

With Fulmer on the mound to start the ninth, Dutch Fork got Brady Beasley and Jansen Stokes out in infield grounders. Gregory’s single to left gave the Bengals life though, and they leapt at their chance to clinch Game One.

Cowan reached base on an infield error that brought Gregory over to third. With Hass taking the place of Cowan at first, the Bengals had the table set for Bailes, who delivered.

“You know, the bats had to break eventually,” Faulkner said. “Thankfully for us we hit it in just the right spot and found a way to win.”

Blythewood 2, Dutch Fork 1, 9 Innings

Dutch Fork – 0-1-0-0-0-0-0-0-0 – 1, 2, 2

Blythewood – 1-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-1 – 2, 8, 2

WP: Josh Cowan (1-0) LP: Andrew Fulmer

Hitters: Blythewood – Zach Bailes 2-5, GWRBI. Landon Lucas HR (7).