Chapman Swept by Blue Ridge
Those 2 words used by Chapman Head Coach Steve Fusaro to describe both the series opener back on Tuesday and the 2-game set between his Panthers and Travis Henson’s Blue Ridge Tigers couldn’t be any more accurate of a description for what has become almost as much of a certainty in life as death and taxes.
Every year, these 2 programs are ranked at the top of the 3A standings. 2 years ago, Blue Ridge ended Chapman’s season in the district round of the 3A playoffs. In 2022, the script flipped and it was the Panthers that ended the Tigers’ hopes for a bid to the 3A upperstate championship round. This year, after finishing as the 3A state runner-up, the Panthers came into the season ranked #1 while Blue Ridge was ranked #5.
Chapman had been tearing their way through their region schedule while Blue Ridge was on a 9-game win streak and undefeated in the region coming into the series. Leave no doubt.. This week was going to be a heavyweight fight – one that should either team come away with a sweep, would all but lock up the region 3-3A championship.
While Steve Fusaro described the opener as a heavyweight fight, Travis Henson had a completely different point to make. The pitching matchup.
Game 1, which was played Tuesday night at Chapman, featured the highly talked about junior pitcher/1st baseman Andrew “AJ” Cammarota on the bump for the Tigers and Chapman’s ace, Jacob Cogdell. Henson’s point? Simple, yet absolutely true. “These 2 pitchers are possibly the best in the state at any classification.”
Fusaro concurred with that statement 100 percent.
“We knew Cammarota was going to be really good. But we also knew Jacob Cogdell was really good. You hear a lot about AJ. But I don’t think people have quite understood how good Jacob’s been. We’re not blowing up social media and those things trying to do that (to clarify – they aren’t “advertising” him). But going into game 1, he was 6-0 with a 0.44 ERA. He had given up more than 3 hits in only 1 start. He has been exceptional. And again tonight, he was exceptional. Another exceptional outing by an exceptional young man. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody and I am glad he is on our team.”
Jacob certainly has flown under the radar a lot this season. Following the graduation of Ricky Montalvo after last season, the biggest question mark the Panthers faced coming into this year was who would rise up and take his place. Cogdell being the most experienced returning starter, it was clear that he would be the likely one to do so. One thing that excited Fusaro about Cogdell when asked about his team in preseason was just how much work he had put in between his last start (game 1 of the state championship series at Oceanside) and the start of this season. That work clearly paid off as Jacob has risen to the challenge of his new role and then some.
In game 1, Cogdell was an absolute warrior. He went 6 and a third innings. In that stretch, he surrendered just 5 hits, 2 of which came in the 7th inning when his control started to fade as his arm fatigued. He got out of 3 jams – one with 2 on and 2 out in the 2nd, the second with 2nd and 3rd and 1 out in the 4th, and a runner on 3rd with 2 out in the 5th. He struck out 9 Blue Ridge hitters while walking just 2.
Cogdell’s lone hiccup that put him on the wrong end of the story was that in the end, the game got away in frustrating fashion for the Panthers. To put it in the words of Steven Fusaro, “You had 2 heavyweight teams. Neither one of them were willing to go down, and it went the distance, if you would. In the end, we just could not finish.”
With Chapman up 1-0 heading to the 7th, Drew Culpepper led off the top of the frame with a walk on a full count. Mason Tompkins followed it up with a single. Cogdell struck out pinch hitter Gabe King before giving up a single to the 9 hole hitter Brady Smouse to load the bases, ending the night for Cogdell.
Lawson Harris came into the game, and promptly walked his first hitter to score the tying run. He bounced back by striking out Cade Norton looking. But, he ended up walking Aj Cammarota with the bases loaded to force in the go ahead run. The Tigers added some big insurance that ended up being the difference in the game when 1st baseman Alex Kiniry singled to score Smouse to go up 3-1. Fusaro ended up turning to Hunter Bland to finish the inning, and he induced a fly out to left on the 2nd pitch he threw to get the job done.
Unfortunately for Cogdell, all 3 of those runs were earned and charged to him.
Chapman managed to rally to cut it to a 1 run game in the bottom of the frame, cashing in a 1 out walk to Devin Roe with a wild pitch, an errant throw on the catcher, and a 6-3 groundout by Hank Tolleson. But, Cammarota and the Tigers won it 3-2 behind Cammarota’s 6 inning, 13 strikeout, 1 (unearned) run outing. Alex Kiniry added an inning with a K and 1 unearned run to get the save.
Game 2 saw the show head to the foothills of Northern Greenville County. The finale was originally set for Friday night but was moved up to Thursday due to the threat of inclement weather on Friday. They mostly managed to avoid the rain. But, it was by no means a picture-perfect night for mid April baseball at Jerry “Pop” Henson Field.
But, the baseball played between the raindrops was still a meaningful heavyweight fight that came down to one team executing in the clutch while the other could not.
The game started with some promise for the Panthers. Chapman 2nd baseman Hudson Moss got plunked to start the game. An errant pickoff throw and a sac fly from right fielder Cole Brown moved him to 3rd. But a 5-3 groundout and a pop up to the shortstop left him there, setting the tone for how the game would end up going.
Blue Ridge used 2 pitchers in the game – Gabe King and Riley Brandt. Neither of the 2 logged a clean inning until Brandt finally got the Panthers in order in the 7th.
Chapman left the bases loaded in the 2nd, stranded a pair in scoring position in the 3rd, a pair in the 4th, plated a run in the 5th but still left the sacks full, left 2 on in the 6th. In total, the Panthers left 13 on base, and it became evident after about 3 innings that it just may not be their night.
Jack Settle got the start on the bump for Chapman, and he was able to go toe-to-toe with the Tigers for the first 2 innings. He worked a 1-2-3 first, walked a pair in the 2nd but got out with a fielder’s choice 6-4. Now, remember when I said it was evident it might not be their night after 3 innings? That’s when the game took a hard turn.
Blue Ridge right fielder Tucker Upton led off the home 3rd with a single. Let’s spoil this.. He also ended the inning. But, in between, Center Fielder Brody Fowler singled, Catcher Cade Norton walked to load the bases, 1st baseman AJ Cammarota grounded out to 1st to score a run, left fielder Alex Kiniry singled in a run, DH Ethan Perry doubled hom a run, 2nd baseman Drew Culpepper singled in 2. The 5-0 deficit it put Chapman in would have been enough to secure the sweep. But, still Blue Ridge kept adding on.
Cade Norton added 2 more on a 2 run home run out of left field following a leadoff single from Brody Fowler in the bottom of the 4th to up the lead to 7-0. Back to back RBI singles from Alex Kiniry and Ethan Perry and an RBI sac fly from Drew Culpepper made it 10-1 in the 6th, making for the final score.
Kiniry was 3 for 4 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored. Drew Culpepper had 3 RBIs in a 1 for 2 effort with a walk. Cade Norton was 1 for 2 with 2 RBIs, 2 walks, and 3 runs scored.
Although the scoreboard looked discouraging for the Panthers and the sweep ensured Blue Ridge the region title, Travis Henson was the first to point out that the scoreboard means nothing. “This was still a hard-fought game. It was a lot closer than the scoreboard shows. We just kept on getting out of jams. That is a good team. Last year they finished 2nd in the region and went all the way to the state championship.”
That is the honest truth for Chapman fans. The loss, especially in game 1 and how it got away, stings. But, there is little doubt that these 2 teams will meet for another heavyweight tilt with something much more valuable than a region title on the line in May. They may just be playing for the upperstate title.
The next week for the Panthers will be their busiest since the 2nd week of the regular season as they wrap up region 3-3A play with Travelers Rest on Tuesday and Friday night. Tuesday will be on the road at 7:30 while Friday will be in Inman at 7:45. They will also host Woodruff on Thursday night at 6:30.