Special to the Aiken Standard

NORTH AUGUSTA — Monday evening’s Class A Upper State baseball playoff game at North Augusta’s Riverview Park grew into a one-sided affair early, with the No. 1 St. Joseph’s Knights posting a 10-1 victory over No. 4 Fox Creek.

“That was a AAAA team playing A baseball,” said Fox Creek coach Wesley Brown, who had scouted the Knights three times this season. “I knew coming in this was going to be a tough one. But I’m proud of our kids. They didn’t quit. They fought through it.”

Starting pitcher Nick Leonard twirled a gem for the Knights (25-1), who are in the driver’s seat of the double-elimination bracket. Leonard’s strong performance was another in a long line of dominant outings by St. Joseph’s pitchers, who have recorded 15 shutouts this season.

“They do a really good job of keeping you off balance at the plate,” Brown said, citing a healthy dose of off-speed pitches mixed in to keep his hitters guessing. “We hadn’t seen that all year, no matter who we played.”

Leonard cruised for much of the game against Fox Creek (24-3) after giving up a single to Darshon Broadwater in the first inning. He retired the next two batters to get out of the inning with a 2-0 lead, and then sat down the next seven Predators in order.

With Fox Creek’s offense struggling, St. Joseph’s turned up the pressure with timely hitting. The Knights scored three runs in the third to take a commanding 5-0 lead.

Caleb Cox broke through against Leonard with a single in the bottom of the fourth, but the Knights’ starter settled down to retire six straight batters. A double play in the bottom of the sixth kept the Predators from rallying and sent them to the final inning scoreless.

St. Joseph’s was denied its 16th shutout in the seventh inning after a Brent Lacey double and a Brett Butler RBI single put the Predators on the board. Leonard then retired the final batter to secure the 10-1 victory.

“I don’t ever want to get shut out. I don’t care if it’s against the Yankees,” Brown said. “From a positive standpoint, that’s something we can definitely take into tomorrow’s practice and build on it.”

The Predators now find themselves having to bounce back from a loss, something they haven’t had to do much of this season. Brown pointed out that his team responded with a vengeance following an April 1 loss to Ridge Spring-Monetta, crushing Wagener-Salley in its next outing.

Up next for Fox Creek is an elimination game against either Lewisville or Lamar, who the Predators already beat, 10-2, on Saturday. The game will be played on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Riverview Park.