Class AAAA baseballBy David Shelton

Special to The Post and Courier

Ashley Ridge’s baseball program, all of four years old, became the first athletic team in the young school’s history to reach the state finals when the Swamp Foxes defeated Lexington, 2-1, in nine innings at home on Friday night.

The Swamp Foxes will travel to Byrnes on Monday night for Game 1 of the best-of-three Class AAAA state championship series.

“When we started this thing four years ago we sort of thought this freshman class would be the class to take us where we wanted to go and to be the first team to represent Ashley Ridge in a state championship is a great feeling and a great honor,” said head coach B.J. Bellush. “These guys never flinch when they’re down and that goes back to mental toughness, which we talk about and stress every day. We always feel we have a chance to win as long as there are outs left to play.”

In the bottom of the ninth, Irv Batten was hit by a pitch and Lorenzo Wright walked. Billy Seigler laid down a bunt to sacrifice the runners over but reached safely, loading the bases for catcher Nick Bell. Bell delivered the game-winning run with a sacrifice fly to right, setting off a wild celebration along the first base line.

“I think our strength is team chemistry,” said Bellush. “We have some very good individual talent on this team, guys that will be playing in college next year, but these guys are not playing for themselves. They play for each other. They’ve been together for four years and they have a very special, strong bond and they believe in each other.”

Lexington (27-4) needed to beat Ashley Ridge (29-1) twice on Friday, and nearly had Game 1 sewed up behind ace left-hander Josh Reagan.

The Wildcats scored a run on two hits off Ashley Ridge starter Patrick Mace in the top of the first inning, but Mace scattered six singles the rest of the way. Mace pitched all nine innings, getting out of jams in the eighth and ninth.

“I was a little nervous early but I settled down as the game went on,” said Mace, who improved to 8-1 on the season. “I just did what I had to do to keep us in it and give those guys a chance to score a run or two.”

Said Bellush of his pitcher’s effort, “Our big thing the last three years was mental toughness and Patrick just went out there and battled his tail off for nine innings, and beat a very good baseball team,” said Bellush.

Reagan was equally impressive for Lexington, allowing only five hits in seven innings while striking out seven. But, getting that 21st out was tough to do.

Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh, right fielder Tyler Hamby tallied his second hit of the night, a single to right, with one out.

After a strikeout, leadoff hitter Wright went down 0-2 before flaring a single to right to keep the inning alive. Left fielder Seigler followed with a soft line drive to left center, tying the game and forcing extra innings.

Lexington 100 000 000—1 7 2Ashley Ridge 000 000 101—2 7 1

WP — Patrick Mace. LP — Elliott Lance (0-1).