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By JED BLACKWELL
If you’re a Chesnee baseball player, putting your name down in the history books means first putting it up on the wall.
At the entrance to the school’s baseball field, a quartet of signs celebrating the Eagles’ state championships, complete with the names of all players and coaches who earned them, welcomes visitors to the stadium.
There will be a fifth.
The 2013 version of the Eagles bested Bishop England two games to one to win this year’s 2A state title, taking a 5-3 victory in the third and deciding game at Chapin High School.
“It’s the payoff for a lot of hard work,” said senior pitcher Jordan Wilkinson, who threw six shutout innings in Game Three. “We knew from day one that we had a shot. We knew hard work would get it done. A couple of months later, here we are.”
Wilkinson said the Eagles had played with a bit of a chip on their shoulder since a disappointing season a year ago.
“It means a lot to take one home for the school,” he said. “We had a bad year last year. It was kind of embarrassing. We wanted to get that tradition back.”
That tradition is what has made Chesnee baseball so important to the community through the years. It’s why Dean Jones Stadium was packed foul pole to foul pole for Game One, why Bishop England saw an overflow crowd of visitors for Game Two, and why Game Three saw Chapin’s home stands packed with a different breed of Eagles. Chesnee athletic director Bill Owens said that baseball was the cornerstone of the Eagles’ athletic programs.
“When you say Chesnee High School, you think about baseball,” he said. “The tradition and the pride there are tremendous. You need one program to be your anchor, to let those championships filter through to the rest of the athletic program. Baseball is obviously our anchor at Chesnee.”
While baseball may be the anchor, the community holds tight to the Eagles. Head coach Scott Wease said he was happy the team could give Chesnee another title.
“It means a lot,” Wease said. “Our town is great in support of our baseball program, and really all our athletic programs. To get this win for them is great.”
Owens said that as an AD, he appreciated the close-knit nature of the community and the program.
“That’s the beauty of being a small school in a small town,” he said. “Everything centers around church and school. Everybody’s involved with everything. This is what high school athletics is all about. It’s just a great part of these kids’ total high school experience.”
Legendary coach Dean Jones, who hung four of those championship signs and led the Eagles for more than 40 years, was succinct in his explanation of the importance of another baseball title.
“It means everything,” he said. “To Chesnee people, this is the most important thing that could happen right now.”
Jones said the team made it easy to cheer them on.
“They’re just great young men,” he said. “For any of us who love Chesnee High School, there’s not one of us who wouldn’t pour our hearts out for them. They’ve played hard. They’ve worked. You might not have picked them to win a state title, but they deserved it. They didn’t have any real big names. Well, they’ve got some good-sized names now.”
Soon, those names will be permanently etched in Chesnee baseball history. Owens said that honor could not be emphasized enough.
“Those kids walk in every time they go to play and they see those state championship names on those signs,” he said. “Now, they get a chance to add to the history. We honor former teams, and when you look at the guys who come back and stand on that hill, it means a lot to them. It means a lot to everybody who comes to the stadium, to everybody who drives by and looks at those signs. I’m tickled to death we get to add another one out there.”
Jones couldn’t put into words how much the honor of hanging another championship sign would mean.
“I’ve had the feeling,” he said. “But I can’t explain it.”
Wilkinson wasn’t trying to get a handle on the feeling, at least not yet. But he knows that he and his teammates will celebrate and be celebrated – now and always.
“To come back and see our names up there for a state championship…that’s always going to feel great,” he said.
By JOHN CLAYTON
On Twitter @JCTweetsOn
It was the sophomore outfielder being serenaded “Happy Birthday” by her body-painted classmates grouped outside the centerfield fence.
It was the pregame hacky-sack circle filled with laughs (thank goodness they’re not the soccer team).
It was the Harvard-bound pitcher animatedly discussing strategy with her catcher between innings and then hugging so hard after the game bones could have been broken.
It was the pixie shortstop booting the first ball hit to her and then, with perhaps surprising pop, slugging an opposite-field home run to give her team the only lead it would need.
It was the senior reserve outfielder entering the game in the fifth, sprinting forward to snatch a dying quail out of the air for the final out of her career.
That was the out that brought on the celebration — the one that finally handed Boiling Springs the Class 4A softball championship on its home field.
With that running catch by Taylor Tschappat, Summerville was adamantly vanquished, 11-0, as were all the old ghosts of J.L. Mann and Mauldin and Hillcrest. Those teams had spent the past three years denying Boiling Springs admittance to the state championship round, denying the Lady Bulldogs this moment, the chance to end their season with a win and one big ol’ trophy.
“To come in and make the last catch — that made my heart stop for a little bit,” Tschappat said. “That’s a memory I’m never going to forget.”
There were plenty of memorable moments in the game — home runs from the battery of Taylor Cabe and Webber Roberts in addition to the opposite-field shot from Katie Jacoby that jump-started the Bulldogs’ offense. Cabe also bounced a ground-rule double off the left-field fence, but Roberts’ two-run homer brought her home anyway.
“In the first inning when I hit that home run that put us up by three, I knew it set fire to our team,” Jacoby said. “Our hitting is just contagious and we all just picked it up. . . . We were just all over it, really confident in our swings.”
Cabe was typically dominant with a two-hit, two-walk shutout as the Bulldogs closed the season with a 31-1 record. The 11-0 win over Summerville was the third mercy-rule victory since the start of the Upper State playoffs.
McKenna Quinn, the birthday girl in right field, called it her best birthday by far.
“I believed we could do it all year. It seems so unreal now that it’s actually happened.”
“Amazing.” “Exciting.” “Terrific.” “Unbelievable.”
So many adjectives, so little time.
“Our offense was great,” Cabe said. “It felt great to come out and be able to make that statement and do the best that we could.”
By the third inning, a 3-0 lead had grown to 9-0 and everyone in both dugouts knew it was all over but the shouting.
“If it had been 1-0, I had confidence that Taylor would get the job done,” Jacoby said.
Boiling Springs head coach Sandy Martin said this team was special from the start.
“This is probably the best team I’ve ever coached,” Martin said. “They were so supportive of one another. You get a bunch of teenage girls together and you almost always have drama. We had none of that this year and it showed on the field.”
The result was the school’s first state softball championship for a program that had become a perennial contender over the past few years.
Did we say, “finally?”
The two-game sweep of Summerville was the apex of a four-year journey highlighted by frustration in the Upper State finals against a trio of softball powerhouses in Mauldin, J.L. Mann and Hillcrest.
This time around, the top-ranked Bulldogs started the Upper State round with a 3-1 victory over the aforementioned J.L. Mann. No one else scored on them until the opening game of the finals against the Green Wave, a 4-3 Boiling Springs victory.
“Everything we’ve worked so hard for, even over past years — making it to Upper State four years in a row — it just all came together in this one game,” Roberts said. “We just showed out. We had so much talent this year, and I feel like everybody played up to their abilities tonight.”
Cabe said the past was a teaching tool for this year’s team, both frustrating and inspiring her and her teammates to live up to their No. 1 state and top-25 national ranking.
It also gave them perspective.
“It makes it more meaningful; it makes it more special,” Cabe said of the four-year journey with the Bulldogs. “It made us hungrier. We wanted to not just get here, we wanted to win. . . . It’s our moment. We’ve been waiting for it for a long time.”
COMMENTARY: S.C. High School League action to find way out of Chapman-Daniel debacle another bad call
By JOHN CLAYTON
As of today, I had covered three S.C. High School League state championship events this school year — basketball, golf and softball.
They all have gone well. The biggest trouble I had was finding the relocated media entrance at Colonial Life Center in Columbia. Some days are like that — you’re either looking for a way in or a way out.
The SCHSL, to its everlasting credit, puts on a pretty good state championship — and I’ve covered just about all of them, from football to cheerleading to soccer to track and field.
Unfortunately, the SCHSL’s job doesn’t stop there. There are operational issues that arise from time to time that require management and decision-making outside the norm. In business, this might be called crisis management. In the newspaper business, we called it Monday, but that’s neither here nor there.
What matters is that no matter what you call it, the powers that be at the SCHSL offices aren’t very good at it, and they proved it again after Chapman played Daniel in a playoff softball game.
Here’s the situation as it was:
Chapman took a 3-2 lead in the middle of the sixth inning when the skies parted, washing out the rest of the game. The head umpire looked to the Chapman and Daniel coaches and said he was suspending the game, come back tomorrow, and we’ll pick it up right here in the sixth, runner on second and no outs.
On the way home, the Chapman coaching staff gets a phone call conferring that the rulebook says the game reverts back to the last full inning, which meant Daniel won, 2-0. I’d covered enough softball and baseball games to know that was indeed the rule. However, the umpires did not delay the game for the mandatory 30 minutes before dismissing the teams, leaving a loophole big enough for Chapman to drive one of its District 1 activity buses through.
So, Chapman had more than one leg to stand on when its coaches appealed the SCHSL’s decision. Even so, the SCHSL quoted, as it had so many times before, that the rule is the rule is the rule. Appeal denied.
Understandably, Chapman sought a legal injunction and the SCHSL acquiesced, finally calling on its executive committee to review the case.
It took a week and several lawyers — or at least the threat of them — for the SCHSL to see reason rather than rules. That part of the 3A bracket was frozen while the SCHSL got the committee together for a special hearing. Everyone, including Union County, Seneca, Daniel and the Panthers waited.
So, this is management? Wait for somebody to call a lawyer and then give weight to the concerns of the people you are charged with not only governing but protecting?
This is why the SCHSL got what was essentially a “no-confidence” vote from members of the S.C. General Assembly after the Goose Creek football fiasco last fall. In case you missed that one, Goose Creek, ranked No. 11 in the country and No. 1 in the state, was denied a playoff berth because a little-used special needs student was not eligible but had been on the team’s roster.
Goose Creek self-reported the incident.
Irked no end, members of the state legislature from the greater Goose Creek area sought to fold the SCHSL into the state department of education because of rampant ineptitude.
This — and I say this as a proud native of this state — from The South Carolina General Assembly.
Isn’t that a little like Ozzy asking you to turn your music down?
(Kids, ask your parents.) Or Kanye getting all in your grill and dissin’ your jam? (Parents, ask your kids.)
I mean, when politicians from these parts call you out on the playground, something is terribly, terribly wrong.
And something is still terribly, terribly wrong with the SCHSL’s ability to deal with the complex issues that very often are not covered by the black-and-white ink of its rulebook.
First, punishments need to fit transgressions. Second, if a league representative in the field makes a reasonable call on something such as a game suspension and neither team protests it at the time, then that ruling stands, even if it is contrary to the letter of the rule. Third, the endgame of all rules and rulings should be the enhancement of the lives and experiences of the players, schools and communities the SCHSL serves.
Much time, heartache and legal wrangling could have been saved over the years had those three simple premises had been followed. No one wants anarchy, but everyone wants decisions to be made fairly and with examination from both the heart and mind.
The executive committee basically gave Chapman and Daniel a do-over, ruling to start the game over from the beginning. Daniel won with a seventh-inning rally.
Like I said, some days you’re just looking for a way out, and that was probably the only one for the SCHSL this time. It just didn’t have to be that way.
The S.C. Junior Golf Association Hootie & the Blowfish Spartanburg Chapter’s 2013 Summer Tour Schedule has been set with nine tournaments at nine different local golf clubs.
Here is the schedule:
June 6, The Creek; June 10, Woodfin Ridge; June 17, River Falls; June 24, Cherokee National; July 1, Village Greens; July 8, Country Club of Spartanburg; July 22, Carolina Country Club; June 29, Heddles Hideaway; July 5-6, Three Pines
The Spartanburg Summer Swim League will begin its season on Tuesday, June 11 and run for six weeks through Tuesday, July 16.
The championship meet is scheduled for Monday, July 29 at the Middle Tyger YMCA.
The nine-team league includes the Hillbrook Pool Dophins, Westside Club Hammerheads, Country Club of Spartanburg Sailfish, Spartanburg Athletic Club Sharks; Converse College Marlins, Parkwood Sharks, Lantern Ridge Stingrays and the Carolina Country Club Seals.
For a complete schedule of SSSL events, visit http://sssl.us/meets.
By JOHN CLAYTON
On Twitter @JCTweetsOn
High school football fans in the area won’t have to wait until September to get their football fix.
The 2013 edition of the Palmetto State Showdown is set for June 14-15 at the Byrnes High School fields in Duncan.
Twenty 7-on-7 teams representing 17 different high schools from as far away as New Jersey and as close as Union County and Greenville are set to compete in the annual tournament.
Host Byrnes will field two squads as will Bergen (N.J.) and Valdosta (Ga.).
Also set to compete are: Berkeley, Brunswick (Ga.), Daniel, Gainesville (Ga.), Greenville, Erwin (N.C.), Jack Britt (N.C.), Jefferson County (Ga.) and Lake Side (Ga.).
Also, Myrtle Beach, North Gwinnett (Ga.), Southern Durham (N.C.), Union County, and Wren.
By JOHN CLAYTON
On Twitter @JCTweetsOn
Last year’s American Legion baseball season came down to the bitter end — and then some.
A compact League Six schedule was made even tighter as the season waned by a series rainouts and four teams sprinted toward the finish line, all within two games of one another. When the regular-season ended, some teams were involved in single-game playoffs simply to determine seeding.
Inman Post 45 head coach Steve Skinner said that could be the case again in 2013 as the teams prepare to get under way.
“I think it will be that way again this year,” Skinner said. “I see two or three really strong teams, so I think it’s going to be real competitive.”
After all was said and done, Greer Post 115 made it to the state tournament with one final 2-1 victory over League Six foe Spartanburg.
The correlation between pitching and winning is accepted as a universal truth in baseball, and Greer head coach Dale Gosnell said that will be the key to winning.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Gosnell said. “With the kids we have returning and the commitments from some new kids from Eastside, I think we could do well.”
Spartanburg Post 28 welcomes a new head coach in Barry Keith. Keith was an assistant with Post 28 last season.
Already, the team, which began the season with only 14 players a year ago, had more than 50 attend a recent two-day tryout.
Keith said he is looking forward to improved depth across the board with an influx of players from Dorman, Spartanburg Day School as well as Broome and Spartanburg.
But Keith, a hitting instructor, said pitching will be key for everyone.
‘Pitching is the thing,” he said. “Good pitching is just hard to hit — and I say that as a hitting instructor. Programs who have the pitching depth can be successful.”
League Six is also starting anew its junior program, giving roster spots to more players who will play a complete junior schedule this season.
By JOHN CLAYTON
Landrum basketball standout Daniel Bridges was a guy with options.
Several universities wanted him to head off to a Virginia prep school to hone his skills and body before playing the college game.
But in the end, an offer from Coach Eddie Payne’s USC Upstate program with the promise of a red-shirt season as a freshman was too much for Bridges to resist. He signed with the Spartans earlier this month.
“It’s going to be a fun experience, and I have a chance to get a few more classes knocked out before I start playing. I think that will help me in the long run,” Bridges said.
Bridges, a 6-foot-7 small forward, led the Cardinals to back-to-back playoff appearances, including the Upper State finals this past season, in his two years at Landrum.
The redshirt season at Upstate will allow Bridges to put on needed weight and muscle to compete at the NCAA Division I level in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
“Going into school, I knew I needed to put on some weight,” Bridges said. “I also need to work on the other aspects of my game — shooting, dribbling, all of it. I think this redshirt period is going to help me out very much.”
As a high school player, fewer were more effective than Bridges over the past two seasons.
In his two seasons with the Cardinals, Bridges, who was home-schooled until his junior year of high school, averaged a double-double with 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, both team highs.
More importantly, the Cardinals’ record with Bridges in the lineup over the past two seasons was 48-7 with a pair of region championships.
“At 6-7, he’s got a great skill set,” said Landrum head coach Lyn Smith, who said Bridges is the first Division I basketball signee from Landrum. “He’s going to be tough to guard on the perimeter. The only thing that can stop him is himself. He may miss the shot, but he’s going to get it off.”
Payne’s wide-open offense at Upstate helped Bridges decide to join the Spartans.
“That four-out, one-in set is more me because I like to play on the outside,” said Bridges. “I’m really more of a shooting guard, and I feel like their offensive style really suits me.”
Bridges is the second Landrum player to sign with colleges this year. Guard Truston Whiteside signed in April with Southern Wesleyan.
Special to Upstate Game Day
Three gymnasts from Spartanburg Gymnastics recently earned South Carolina State Champion titles at their state gymnastics meets.
Emmie Sprinkle, Sophia Jones, and Elainee Sprinkle earned some of the highest All-Around scores in South Carolina.
The trio was chosen to represent the state at a regional competition where they competed against gymnasts from seven other states.
At age 10, Elainee Sprinkle emerged as the Excel Platinum State Champion. This past season, she has taken home 15 firsts in nine competitions, including five all-around firsts. At a Clemson meet, Elainee brought home first-place finishes in three of four events and captured the all-around title. At the state meet, she was first in bars, beam and all-around with a score of 37.575.
At state, Elainee earned a spot on the S.C. Excel Platinum Team for a regional competition at Clemson. She was the youngest member by more than two years. At the regional, she took third place on beam and helped the S.C. team to a fourth-place finish
At age 13, Emmie Sprinkle’s passion is gymnastics. Having competed since she was 4, she is the highest level gymnast at Spartanburg Gymnastics at Level 8. Through nine meets this season, she has eight firsts, including four in bars, two in balance beam and two all-around titles.
At state, she finished second AA in her level, and earned first place in the state on bars. To top off the season, Emmie represented the state at the Level 7-8 Regionals in Atlanta. There, Emmie earned her highes all-around score of the season, placing second on bars and second on the floor, just 0.1 and 0.025 points behind each respective winner.
Sophia Jones is a 13-year-old Level 7 gymnast. Sophia returned from a knee injury suffered after the first meet of the season to take third in the all-around and earn a spot on the S.C. Regional All-Star Team. At the regional meet held at Georgia State University, she scored a 9.325 on vault and a 9.2 on floor.