NORTH AUGUSTA — A persistent rain fell for much of Saturday’s Class A Lower State title bracket opener between Fox Creek and Lamar, but the home Predators didn’t seem to mind, prevailing 10-2.
Fox Creek (24-2) made a pair of errors late in the sloppy conditions, but they didn’t prove as costly as the three the Silver Foxes (19-8) committed that directly led to three Predator runs. The gaffes also left the door open for the home team to score four runs in the second and five in the fifth.
“This is our field. It’s home-field advantage,” said starting pitcher Brent Lacey (7-0). “It does rain out here a good bit, and luckily for us, we do get to practice in it, so it helped a little,”
Predator head coach Wesley Brown said that practicing in the rain, something he picked up during his days playing for South Aiken coach Bob Polewski, was a key for his team being prepared to handle the conditions.
“We have not missed one practice the entire year with all the rain we’ve had,” Brown said. “In between rain showers, we actually got out there and learned to play in the rain, and I owe a lot to that. ... I really believe that’s got a lot to do with how we played defensively in this game.”
Never was that more evident than in back-to-back frames in the fourth and fifth innings. With the Predators leading 4-1, the Silver Foxes looked like they had something to work with when a leadoff single by Gole Bennett followed by a walk by Trey Bullard had runners on first and second with no outs. Gage Jordan hit a short chopper near the third base line, but Fox Creek third baseman Terrance Hillary turned and fired to a sprinting Roby Gillespie, who came over from shortstop to record the out at third base.
Gonza Brown hit a bouncing ball to the mound, and Lacey hit Hillary with a strike to record the second out at third base. Leadoff hitter and losing pitcher Maliki Mack hit a bullet back up the middle, but Lacey speared it before running back to the dugout without surrendering a run.
The fifth started on a similar note. The first three batters reached for Lamar, and Tyler Smith drove in a run with an infield single. That was all Lamar got. One fielder’s choice to home and a 6-4-3 double play later, the Predators were out of another jam.
“That’s what I’ve preached to these guys from day one is we’re not going to be a power team; we’re going to be kind of a finesse team,” Brown said. “But we’ve got to be able to play defense. There’s that old cliche, ‘Defense wins championships.’ That’s what we strive for.”
The Fox Creek offense gave Lacey more than he would need in the second inning alone. After the Silver Foxes manufactured a run in the first inning, the Predators went in order in their half before keeping the visitors off the board in the second.
Then the home team went to work at the plate, as four straight hitters reached base. Forrest Whitfield drove in a pair of runs, as did Roby Gillespie to give the Predators a 4-1 lead, much to Lacey’s delight.
“It was a big relief,” he said. “From that point on, I knew we had the confidence on our side and the momentum, and that was big.”
The Predators also answered the bell with five runs in the fifth after the Silver Foxes scored their only other run. The Fox Creek fifth saw all nine batters come to the plate, with a pair of runs scoring on a throwing error by Mack before Thomas Colvin drove in a run on a single and Gillespie drove in his third run of the game on a triple to right. The Predator shortstop went 2-for-3 with three RBIs, and Colvin, who also drove in the Predators’ last run in the sixth, went 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
Fox Creek advanced in the winner’s bracket with the victory and will now face defending state champion St. Joseph’s on Monday at 6 p.m. at Riverview Park.
“It’s set up for us in the fact that we’re home all the way through if we keep winning,” Brown said. “Boy, the toughest test is next. ... St. Joe’s is the defending champ, and they haven’t lost but one game in (each of the last) two years, so they’re a very quality program.”
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.