Despite some up-and-down play, the Aiken team playing in Dixie Boys 14 Year Old State Championship led after three innings of their elimination game against the squad of all-stars representing Hilton Head. Although Aiken ultimately prevailed, 7-5, it wasn't without some difficulties.

It overcame the loss of starting pitcher Cam Shiffner to an arm injury, and Logan Pate seemed to be settling into a groove after coming on in relief in the middle of an at-bat in the top of the second inning. After fielding a grounder back to the mound at Citizens Park, he made the easy toss to first base for the second out of the fourth inning and seemed to be on his way to closing out another scoreless frame.

That's when Hilton Head first baseman Ian Foggo came to the plate and changed the game. Foggo crushed Pate's pitch well over the fence in right-center for a game-tying two-run home run. After Tad Zmarzly followed with a single, Aiken escaped the inning. The home team was dealt another difficult situation, and as it had earlier, it responded positively.

“It was a hard-fought game and we had to fight through adversity,” Aiken head coach Jamie Hammonds said. “Shiffner's arm was hurting, so we took him out and lost the DH (in the switching). But we fought back.”

It was a two-out rally in the bottom of the fourth that proved the difference in the game.

In between a pair of outs, Maddy Hammonds drew a walk but looked like he might get stranded, especially with the ninth hitter in the batting order coming to the plate. But center fielder Mason Griffin isn't the typical nine-hole hitter.

Normally the leadoff batter, Jamie Hammonds switched the player with blazing speed to the bottom of the order to help take relieve pressure. The move paid off in the third inning when he tripled to deep center and eventually scored. It worked again as he drew a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second.

Travis Scott, the new leadoff hitter who was the only Aiken batter to have a multiple-hit game, followed with a well-placed single just beyond the infield that loaded the bases.

That brought Pate to the plate and he helped his own cause, smashing a two-run single into the left-center gap. Aiken wasted no time adding to its lead, as Shiffner followed with a two-run double. Shiffner returned to the game to play shortstop after the switches. Josh Shealy and pinch-runner Avery Brown scored Aiken's other runs, while Cory Kauffman had an RBI.

After quickly retiring Hilton Head in the fifth, Pate found himself in trouble at the start of each of the next two innings. Hilton Head scratched out a run in the sixth, when Carmen Mlodzinski scored for the third time in the game, coming home on Nick Lucchesi's sac fly. Up three and only three outs from the win, Pate surrendered a leadoff home run to Eric Foggo, Ian's brother, who connected for the no-doubt solo shot.

When the next batter, Shane Clark (3-for-4) singled, it brought the tying run to the plate with no outs. But Pate settled down, and the defense behind him which had made some mistakes was flawless as he retired the next three batters.

“Those two brothers were great. We've got to stay away from the Foggo brothers,” said Hammonds, who won't have to worry about them again in this tournament after eliminating Hilton Head. “Logan Pate came in a pitched a heck of a game. I'm proud of my team.”

Aiken will play again today at 5 p.m. in another elimination game. That's the same scenario for the Aiken team in the Dixie Junior Boys 13 Year Old State Championship tournament. They kept their title hopes alive with a 9-5 win over Beaufort. Ryan Dragano pitched six innings for the win and was buoyed by Mason Gibbs (2-for-3, three RBIs) and Greg Barnes (3-for-4, one RBI).

HH 100 201 1xx — 5 11 1

AIK 021 400 xxx — 7 8 5

Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.