Union County knew that Fort Mill would feature some solid pitching in Monday night’s playoff game, and the Jackets brought some heat of their own in senior righty Dylan Rogers, however, a couple of errors and a controversial call proved costly to the Jackets who suffered their first loss of postseason play, 1-0.
In a pitcher’s duel, Union County collected just two hits while Fort Mill was limited to four.
“Their pitcher (Nathan Helvey), is the best pitcher we’ve faced so far,” said coach Tommy Petty. “He’s one of the top pitchers in 3A and he kept us off balance all night. Dylan also pitched a great game. He gives us everything he’s got. He lays it out there and gives us a chance.”
In the bottom of the first, Mark Jeter made contact, but was called out at first, much to the dismay of the Union County faithful and Petty. With two outs, Jake Walton smacked a double to deep left field but was left stranded.
Petty said that inning could have been the difference maker.
“We had a chance to score there,” Petty commented. “You just can’t let good teams like Fort Mill get off that easily.”
Fort Mill’s lone run came in the top of the third inning. With runners on the corners and one out, the Jackets had a chance to end the inning with a double play. Shortstop Jake Walton scooped up a grounder and tagged second for out number two, but a throwing error at first allowed a run to score for the 1-0 lead. Fort Mill attempted to increase the lead when a hit to left field appeared to be the opportunity to plate a second run, but Dustin Payne’s arm was underestimated and he gunned the runner down at home to get the Jackets out of the inning.
In the bottom of the inning, with two outs, Recus Hughes hit a shot into left field for a stand up double, but the Jackets left the runner on when Helvey seated the next batter on strikes.
Solid pitching coupled with impressive defensive plays prevented either team from doing any critical damage on offense throughout the remainder of the game and after seven innings Union County found themselves in the loser’s bracket, scheduled to host Belton Honea Path on Wednesday night in a do-or-die situation.
“This loss hurt,” said Walton. “But we did the same thing last year and went on to State by coming back and battling. We’re still in this. We know what we are capable of, we just have to keep our heads up and keep fighting.”