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Blue Ridge Takes Series Against Chapman

This week’s premier series locally was an in-region rivalry set between the Chapman Panthers and the Blue Ridge Tigers. Since the last realignment, these 2 squads have been the cream of the crop in 3-3A, with Blue Ridge having won 2 of the last three meetings and claiming the region crown in each of the last three seasons.

 

This year, Chapman has been a bit of a surprise. The Panthers are under new leadership after Steven Fusaro stepped away at the end of the 2023 season to take on a role as an assistant principal at Chesnee Middle School. They hired former Boiling Springs assistant J.D. Goodwin as his successor, and with all the talent that was lost following last year, it looked like his work would be cut out for him. The program would see even more adversity before the season even started, losing senior infielder Hudson Moss to an injury.

 

Despite all the change and adversity, this program has remained as resilient as ever. They opened the regular season with back to back games against 5A opponents, starting on the road with the resurgent Spartanburg Vikings. Chapman ultimately went on to drop that contest, but went toe-to-toe with them in a 15-10 loss. They followed it up with consecutive wins over 5A schools, notching a 9-4 victory over Byrnes and a 10-6 decision over Hillcrest, who they beat again nearly a week later 12-2. The Panthers also got off to a 4-0 start in region 3-3A play, sweeping Carolina Academy and Broome, outscoring them by a combined 44-4 margin.

 

In their most recent non-region series, the Panthers gave another traditional 5A power fits. During Spring Break week, they played a 2 game set with Boiling Springs. In the opener, they went back and forth, leading twice before the Bulldogs pulled away for the 9-5 win in the 8th inning. The 2nd game of the series was almost a mirror image with the Panthers falling 6-3.

 

In short, it appears that Chapman hasn’t really lost a step, meaning that this series with Blue Ridge, who came in with just 1 region loss at 4-1, would once again be the de facto region championship. And the series could not have gotten off to a better start for one with so much riding on it.

 

Mother Nature played a factor, as it so often does during high school baseball season. Heavy rain for much of Wednesday led to soggy field conditions at Blue Ridge, who was supposed to host the opener. Instead, it would be moved to Inman, where the concern would be more about the air conditions. The temps were cool and the air was damp and heavy, which made the situation more than ideal for a low scoring bout. That is exactly what we got.

 

The matchup featured junior Hunter Bland on the bump for the Panthers and the electric 2-way star AJ Cammarota for the Tigers. Both pitchers cruised, with Bland doing a good job of pitching to contact and letting his defense take care of business behind him. Blue Ridge made a lot of solid contact off him, but despite 3 hits, 4 walks, and a hit batsman, they were kept off the scoreboard until the top of the 7th inning.

 

Chapman led 1-0 heading to the game’s final frame, scoring on a 2 out RBI single from Kole Brown that plated Chandler Cartee in the bottom of the 3rd. Needing just three outs and cruising up to that point, Bland came back out to start the inning and walked RJ Cammarota. The next hitter struck out trying to bunt him over, but the ball got away and went to the backstop, moving the tying run into scoring position. Aggressive as Blue Ridge is on the basepaths, Travis Henson sent Cammarota on a steal attempt at third, which payed off as the throw down went up the line for an E2, scoring him with ease. That ended the night for Bland, giving way to Kole Brown.

 

Unfortunately for Chapman, Brown struggled with his command, walking 2 and hitting 2 more to force home what would be the winning run on a bases-loaded walk. Carson Seymour came in to relieve Brown and was able to put out the fire with a strikeout and a fly ball to center. .

 

Trailing 2-1 heading to the bottom of the frame, Chapman would have to do something they hadn’t been able to all night – work the count and get runners on against AJ Cammarota. They were unable to as they went down in order on 2 quick groundouts and a pop up to 2nd to make for a complete game for AJ, whose final line was 9 strikeouts, 2 hits, 1 walk, and 1 earned run.

 

Game 2 of the series was practically a mirror image of the finale a year ago, which was also played at Blue Ridge. In that game, Chapman jumped out to an early lead only to have Blue Ridge respond with a crooked number and just keep adding on, going on to all but secure the region championship with a 10-1 win.

 

This time, Chapman once again struck first off Blue Ridge starter Mason Tompkins. Kole Brown started the game with a single and moved into scoring position on a ground ball to 3rd. Cole Daugherty followed with an RBI single, but ended up being left out there as the next 2 hitters went down swinging.

 

That lead was short-lived as Blue Ridge returned the punch by loading the bases on Chapman starter Lewis McAlister with 1 out after a walk, a double, and another free pass. That set up a game-tying RBI single from AJ Cammarota. Mason Tompkins helped his own case by following that with an RBI single of his own that gave him all the run support he would end up needing.

 

Chapman’s defense got out of the inning with a 6-4-3 double play to go to the 2nd down just 2-1, but Mason Tompkins and the Blue Ridge defense behind him took over from there. Tompkins ended up tossing a complete game, striking out 10 while walking 3 with three hits. The defense behind him turned two huge double plays that helped to keep momentum on the Tigers’ side.

 

After the 1st inning, Blue Ridge managed to score a single run in the 2nd, two in the 3rd, and added another in the 6th as they eased to an 8-1 win to secure the sweep and once again all but lock up the region championship.

 

Chapman, now 10-9 overall and 4-2 in region, will have to sweep Travelers Rest in their final region series next week and rely on a lot of unlikely help from Carolina Academy, who Blue Ridge finishes out region play with next week, in order to win the region title now. That series gets underway Tuesday night at 7:30 in Inman and concludes Thursday at 7:30 in TR.

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