Cavaliers ride on in 2A playoffs


BISHOPVILLE - Total obliteration.

The bottom of the first inning of Monday's SCISA 2A baseball game between Robert E. Lee Academy and Colleton Prep seemed more like an extended batting practice than the first game of a best-of-3 state championship series as the Cavaliers sent 17 men to the plate and put up 12 runs on the way to a 15-0, 3-inning dismantling of the Warhawks.

The series was slated to continue on Tuesday at Colleton Prep's home field in Walterboro. A third game, if necessary, to be played on Thursday at a neutral site as the Cavaliers looked to take the title after finishing as runners-up the past two seasons..

Monday's game lasted just 1 hour, 5 minutes, and many were still searching for a parking spot around the packed REL campus when Keaton Price launched a grand slam home run that put the Cavaliers up 5-0 and seemingly opened the floodgates. Price would add an RBI single in his second plate appearance for a rare 5-RBI inning.

"The first inning we said we were going to come out strong, come out thinking to win the ball game and not take it lightly," Price said. "My (grand slam) at-bat, the first two pitches weren't really my pitches. I waited for mine, put a good swing on it and I guess it just worked out the way it worked out. That's just how it goes sometimes, the first one (grand slam) of my high school career. It doesn't happen a lot, and it's a blessing (to get 5 RBI in one inning), very unheard of. I'm just glad I've got a team like this right here that's got my back all the way through, supporting me, and I'm glad we got the win. Hopefully we'll get the win tomorrow and come back home as state champs."

Colleton Prep starter Brad Strickland struggled with control issues right out of the gate, walking the first two batters he faced before giving up a Hunter McGee infield single to load the bases. Strickland then plunked Austin Windham to force home the game's first run and reload the bases for Price's blast.

Strickland had a few chances to minimize the damage but ran into tough luck each time. He retired Josh Burns on an RBI groundout just ahead of the Price slam and struck out Evan Jackson just after Price's first at-bat of the frame, only to see Jackson reach after a passed ball on the third strike. Strickland would then issue two more walks wrapped around RBI singles from Drew Watson and Jenkins McCullum before being pulled with two outs and trailing 7-0.

Hewitt Rowe came to the mound from right field and did not fare much better than Strickland, allowing four consecutive RBI singles to Windham, Burns, Price and Jackson before finally striking out Jet Smith to end the marathon half-inning.

After striking out two of the three batters he faced in the top of the first, Windham gave REL a shutdown follow-up to the big inning by striking out the side in the top of the second. After McGee added a 2-run home run in the bottom of the second to push the lead to 14-0, Windham once again struck out two of the three batters he faced in the third to close out a perfect three innings. The only balls put in play by Warhawk batters against Windham were an infield grounder from Charlton Griffith and a fly ball by Dylan Kinard that Smith chased down and gloved in center field.

"Not many," Windham said of how many times he's taken the mound in the top of the second with a 12-0 lead. "It feels good, like you've got a straight shot. Everybody came pumped. (My mindset was) don't let them get a hit, don't let them get a run and win the game."

REL head coach David Rankin was not surprised by Windham's dominant effort on the mound.

"We've been great on the mound all year," said Rankin, whose team improved to 24-3 overall and kept an unblemished mark in SCISA games. "When you throw 10 pitchers and our ERA (earned run average) is 1.77, you've got pitchers. Windham has been special for three years, and we can't ask for him to do much more than he's done. He's lost two games in three years, and both of them were in the first game of the state championship (series), so we got that off of his back tonight. He had lost to Pee Dee (Academy) by a run in both games, so we're super proud of him to get that off his back a little bit.

"We just played well, we hit the ball hard. They couldn't find the strike zone early and then we come up and get the grand slam to go up 5-0, and then it kind of snowballed from there. We almost batted around twice. That's why you play three games, so we have to come out tomorrow and play again."

While the Cavaliers have had other fast starts at the plate this season, McGee said to have it happen like this in a state championship series was special.

"We have had some 10-, 12-run first innings earlier in the year, but nothing quite like this," McGee, one of five seniors, said of an inning that saw five REL batters reach base twice and three of those five score twice. "Everyone was killing the ball. First, Windham goes three up, three down in the first, second and third. Can't get much better than that, can't get any better than that. I got the pitch in a good spot (on his home run), lifted it and it was out of here."

The game ended in anticlimactic fashion, beginning with Rowe walking pinch hitter Peyton Godwin to open the third. Godwin would take second on a bunt single by Smith, advance to third on a Josh Kirven single to left and cross the plate with the game-ending run on a wild pitch to Dustin Kennedy.