The Swamp Foxes live to fight one more day.
The Ashley Ridge baseball team fought off elimination in the Class AAAA state championship series on Saturday, edging Byrnes, 6-5, to force a decisive Game 3 on Monday night.
Ashley Ridge (30-2) and Byrnes (22-4) will play at White Knoll High School in Lexington at 7 p.m.
On Saturday, Ashley Ridge jumped out to a 3-0 lead and led 6-3 in the seventh inning before holding off a late Byrnes rally. Senior Patrick Mace improved to 9-1 on the season with a complete-game effort for coach B.J. Bellush. Mace allowed nine hits and struck out five while picking off a potential tying run at second base in the third inning.
“Nothing at this time of year is easy, and we knew this would be a dogfight,” said Bellush. “Patrick just battled today. He did what he’s done all year, just get people out. He didn’t have his best stuff today, but he had enough to get us through.”
Ashley Ridge struck for three runs in the bottom of the first off Byrnes starter Zach Bridgeman. Lorenzo Wright and Nick Bell walked and Austin Livingston delivered a two-out RBI single, and McColl Furman followed with a two-run single for a quick advantage.
Byrnes answered with two runs in the second as Evan Suddeth tallied two RBI with a single, but Mace pitched out of a bases-loaded jam to end the threat.
“We were able to jump out and get some early runs but Byrnes just kept coming at us, which we expected,” said Bellush. “I thought our guys just played solid. They had some good at bats, put some balls in play with runners on and played pretty good defense.”
A two-run single in the second by Bell pushed the Ashley Ridge lead to 5-2, and Austin Garland’s infield single scored Jason Miller for a 6-2 margin in the fifth.
Byrnes had one last rally left in the seventh. With one out, Reed Rohlman singled and Steven Duggar doubled. An out later, Luke Hostetler blooped a single to left to score both runners, cutting the lead to 6-5. Mace got Bridgeman on a foul pop to first to end the game.
Ashley Ridge is playing the championship series without two starters, who are serving a school suspension. Bellush has been forced to tweak his lineup in the finals but says the team is responding well.
“It’s been a tough week with some adversity but these guys just keep playing,” he said. “We preach mental toughness and focus every day and our coaches are doing a fantastic job of keeping everyone’s eyes on the prize. We have some other guys stepping up. We are getting a team effort right now and I’m real proud of this baseball team.”