Special to the Aiken Standard

By the bottom of the sixth inning, Wednesday night’s Class AAAA Lower State baseball playoff elimination game appeared to have slipped away from South Aiken. The T-Breds had watched a 5-2 lead slowly evaporate on their home field, becoming a 6-5 deficit with time running out and their season on the line.

But they weren’t finished just yet. Stokes Griffith’s two-out, two-run single put South Aiken back on top. Josh Kiser then scored on a balk, giving the T-Breds (20-10) the insurance they needed in an 8-7 victory over Sumter.

“I knew I had to do something for my team,” Griffith said. “I had made a few mental mistakes earlier in the game and I just had to pull through for my team.”

South Aiken got out of the gates quickly, plating a pair of runs in the first inning without even recording a hit. Sumter answered with two runs of their own to open the second before the T-Breds surged back ahead with three more.

Pitchers for both teams struggled to find the strike zone early on. The two teams combined for 12 walks in the first three innings and 18 in the game.

“There was a lot riding on it for both teams, especially on the mound,” South Aiken head coach Bob Polewski said. “It was unusual with the pitchers on both squads. A lot of nerves played in it.”

South Aiken cashed in on those free passes in the second, scoring two runs on walks with the bases loaded. Sumter had a chance to get out of the frame sooner when Will Smith struck out Mason Collins for the inning’s third out, but the pitch got through to the backstop, sending Collins to first and allowing Trey Polewski to score.

From there, Sumter put the game on cruise control. The Gamecocks scored a run in the third and two more in the fourth to tie the game while stonewalling the T-Breds at the plate, allowing one lone base runner after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the third.

“Our pitchers settled down and gave us a chance,” Sumter head coach Joe Norris said. “We battled back to take the lead. As their head coach, I can’t be more proud of that.”

The Gamecocks pulled ahead in the sixth when Taylor McFaddin drove in Jacob Watcher. At that point, it appeared as though Sumter would be moving on for a shot at the Lower State title.

South Aiken had other plans. A Collins single started the rally. Taylor Widener received his third intentional walk of the game, putting the T-Breds in business. Kiser walked to load the bases with two outs, setting the stage for Griffith’s clutch hit.

“They did what they had to do in the sixth,” Norris said. “That was a nice job (by Griffith). We threw him a breaking ball away. He stayed on it and hit it down the line. They got the hits when they needed to.”

Widener came in to pitch the seventh for the T-Breds, allowing a pair of base runners before a Watcher line-out to short ended the game to complete South Aiken’s wild comeback and end Sumter’s season.

“Both teams kept chipping away,” said Polewski. “Fortunately for us, we scored one more than them.”

Up next for the T-Breds is a road date at Lexington on Friday. South Aiken must defeat the Wildcats twice in order to claim the Lower State crown.

“We’ve seen them enough. We’re just going to go and play our game,” said Polewski of Lexington. “We’re going to do what we’ve done all year. We’re going to go in there thinking we can beat them in two games.”