AUGUSTA When it rains, it pours.
Such was the case Saturday evening here in the first round of the AA state baseball tournament as the Buffalo Island Central Mustangs saw a disastrous fifth inning against the Charleston Tigers put an end to their quest for a state title.
The Tigers (21-6) erupted for 10 runs in the frame that proved the old adage "if it can go wrong, it will" true. Numerous infield singles, questionable calls, bad hops off the rocky infield and five Mustang errors led the Tigers to the 10-run inning as they went on to defeat BIC (22-8), 12-4.
"That was one disastrous inning," BIC head coach Bill Taylor simply said on the field after meeting with his team following the game.
Jumping out to a 4-0 lead after 2 1/2 innings, the BIC boys looked and played like the superior team, but the fifth inning began ominously as BIC starting pitcher, Brandon Ballard, allowed three consecutive Tiger singles to the top of the Charleston batting order to load the bases with no outs.
The third single prompted coach Taylor to take a trip to the mound and calm down a rattled Ballard.
The sophomore came to grips on the next batter as he fanned opposing pitcher, Zach Robinson, batting in the clean-up slot.
Charleston shortstop Philip Terry then sliced a single to left scoring one run which was followed by an infield RBI single by Aaron Mitchell to tie the game at 4-4. Two more Tiger singles followed as Charleston took the lead, 7-4.
"That's alright, we're still OK," coach Taylor hollered to his troops from the dugout, "They're just finding the gaps."
Two more run scoring singles followed before second baseman Clay Crowley grounded to short for the second out of the inning. With runners on second and third, Tiger catcher Doc Crowley was intentionally walked to load the bases. Robinson, batting for the second time of the inning, then drilled a two-run single to centerfield prompting Taylor to make a pitching change. Mark Hawkins came in to relieve Ballard. Hawkins walked the first two batters he faced before fanning Josh Wynne to end the inning. For the inning, the first nine of 10 Charleston batters reached base on singles.
Visually frustrated, the Mustangs went down in order in the top of the sixth.
Attempting to stage a seventh inning rally, Brett Sexton reached first on a dropped third strike by the Tiger catcher and Hawkins followed by picking up his third hit of the afternoon, but all hopes of a comeback ended as Chris Deeds hit into a double play to end the game.
"That fifth was just a very frustrating inning," coach Taylor said. "You know, we're ahead 4-2 going into the bottom of the fifth and everything they hit just found a way of falling in and we were one step out of position. Things just kind of snowballed and got away from us bad. It was just a nightmare inning."
Taylor went on to praise his team stating, "I'm very proud of these kids. They didn't get down and continued to play. I'm not disappointed in their effort at all. We could have played better, sure, but they were giving it their best and that's all I want out of them."
The Mustangs struck early in the contest leading off the top of the first with successive singles by Preston Despain and Josh Shepard. Both runners advanced on a sacrifice fly to right by Brett Sexton. Mark Hawkins then sliced a two-run drive into right field as Buffalo Island took a 2-0 lead.
Ballard sent down the Tigers in order in the bottom of the first and only allowed one hit in the second inning.
The Mustangs added two more runs in the third frame. Shepard led off the inning with a single but was caught attempting to steal second base. With two outs, Sexton drilled a double to the gap in left center. Hawkins was intentionally walked and Deeds brought Sexton home blooping a single into shallow left field. Derek Rolland stepped up to the plate next and lined a double to center scoring Hawkins.
Ballard (8-3) suffered the loss for the Mustangs working 4 2/3 innings and striking out four.
Hawkins was three for three at the plate, with Rolland going two for two.
"The kids were really excited to be here," coach Taylor said about BIC's first trip to the baseball state tournament. "However, we were disappointed with the facilities. We should not have to play in a state tournament on a dirt infield. I feel the AAA is failing the kids when they do something like this. We've tried to do everything to make this a pleasant experience for them. I know there are a lot of teams that would love to trade places with us. I'm thankful to be here -- disappointed with the outcome -- but I'm not disappointed with my kids."
Last Monday, the Mustangs defeated Rector, 6-2, to earn their first-ever berth in the state tournament.
Josh Shepard (6-2) earned the win on the mound for BIC which set a school record for most team wins in a season (22).
Playing for the regional tournament title against Bay on Tuesday, the Mustangs were shutout, 3-0, on a one-hit pitching performance by Robby Bollinger. Bollinger had a perfect game going for the first 4 2/3 innings before Chris Deeds notched a single. Ballard took the loss for BIC.