West Florence out duels Darlington in region championship game
By Drake Horton
Darlington – Darlington’s quest to become region champion in junior legion came up short by just one game.
Tied with West Florence at the end of the regular season, the two teams squared off this past Wednesday in Darlington for a winner-take-all, one-game playoff for the region championship.
Despite a solid pitching performance from Chase Weatherford, who gave up just three runs in seven innings of work, Darlington struggled mightily at plate, not collecting a single hit in seven innings of baseball and losing 3-1.
“Hats off to West Florence, they’re a good baseball team, congratulations to them,” Darlington head coach Dennis Gearhart said. “I thought we had some opportunities, but we couldn’t get it done at the plate tonight; sometimes you have those games.”
But while Darlington did struggle at the plate, the so called “no-hitter” was a bit misleading. While technically Darlington did not earn a true hit, it did reach base 10 times, seven coming by walk and three via hit-by-pitch.
Darlington had at least one base runner in five of the seven innings, including the sixth inning where it loaded the bases and scored its only run of the game, a RBI walk by pinch hitter Ranse Hatchell, who had fell behind 0-2 in the count before earning the walk after four straight balls.
Both teams were scoreless through the first three innings of play before West Florence finally found its way onto the scoreboard in the fourth inning.
After starting the inning off with a bloop double that dropped between Darlington’s third baseman, shortstop and left fielder, a perfectly place sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch by Weatherford allowed the West Florence to cross home first.
In the fifth inning West Florence increased its lead to 3-0. With two runners on, West Florence used a little two-out magic, singling in two more runs.
Darlington had its one chance in the sixth inning, but besides that it was just never able to put together enough good at bats to win the game and a big reason for that was timing.
“We haven’t played a lot of baseball lately with the forfeits and everything else and a lot of hitting is timing so that probably hurt us a little bit in not seeing game speed pitches in a little while,” Gearhart said.
Prior to the game, Darlington had not played a single game in almost two weeks because both Lamar and Cheraw had canceled.
However, finishing second in the region is not all doom and gloom. First this is the best Darlington has done in junior legion in years and second it guarantees that Darlington get to host at least the first round of the playoffs at home, which is a huge accomplishment.
“We’ve had a great season, second place,” Gearhart said. “That is probably the highest I can remember us finishing in quite a while and to have a shot to play for the championship in the last game of the year.”
Darlington finishes the season 9-3 over.