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Byrnes Baseball Clinches Region Title

If there was ever an example of why preseason rankings mean absolutely nothing, the 2024 baseball season for the James F. Byrnes Rebels is prime. After a surprising 2023 campaign under then first-year head coach Taylor Hollifield where the young squad turned a lot of heads by going on a tear at the end of the regular season to come out as the 2 seed, the experience returning this season would lead you to believe the expectations would be higher for them. Instead, the powers-that-be were more high on the equally more experienced Dorman Cavaliers, picking them to win the region and placing them at number 7 in the 5A preseason polls. The Rebels? Picked to finish third behind Boiling Springs and not even given a spot in the top 10. 

 

While it is easy for a writer or a casual observer to ignore all of that noise, obviously many in the Byrnes camp took that as a disrespect – the team included. As a matter of fact, rather than let that get to them, they embraced that underdog role. 

 

“When rankings came out throughout the year, we were forgotten about. The guys took it to heart. They sent that stuff around to each other and used that as a motivator and didn’t let it deter them from doing what they wanted to do. They have grinded it out and I am so proud of them”, said Coach Hollifield. 

 

It is impossible to deny that embracing the role paid off. The Rebels did not lose a series or get swept all season long up to this point, entering the week in full control of their own destiny. Byrnes came in at 8-1 in region play, 17-9 overall, needing just 1 win in three chances to clinch their first region championship since 2012 – 12 long years ago. But, simplistic as it sounds for a team this good to win just one game, it would not necessarily come easy. 

 

Byrnes would have to go through arguably the hottest team in the area and one of their bitter rivals – the aforementioned Dorman Cavaliers, who entered the week having won 5 consecutive region games to climb out of the cellar from 5th to 2nd in the standings. Despite their being on fire, the preseason favorites had two things going against them – needing to sweep the Rebels (which again, has not happened all season), and the recent history in the series. Neither side has swept the other in the last four seasons. It was a tall hill to climb, and it was clear that with everything in their favor and being the home team in the series that Byrnes was looking to pounce quickly and end the race as soon as possible. 

 

The series opener featured a fantastic pitching matchup, as one might expect from a game with this much riding on it. Dorman went with their promising freshman Connor Wells while the Rebels threw Jake Short. In short (no pun intended), neither pitcher was dominant in the opener in terms of limiting traffic on the base paths. Both hurlers did a good job of trusting their arms to get them out of trouble and their defense to make plays behind them. 

 

After Short worked a 3 up 3 down frame in the top of the 1st, Byrnes did exactly what they were looking to on offense and jumped out to a quick lead. Jaxson Camp led off with a single and took 2nd on a wild pitch. Nic Degler followed with an RBI single. Connor Crenshaw grounded into a fielders choice at short, erasing Degler, but beat the rap at 1st to avoid the double play. After swiping second and moving up an additional 90 feet on a groundout from Payne Sheriff, Jake Moss delivered a clutch 2 out RBI single to go up 2-0. Byrnes got one more runner on with a walk to Brayden Price, but ultimately, further damage was avoided when Harrison Keels grounded to 3rd to end the inning.

 

That 2-0 lead honestly would have been enough to win the game, as the storyline from there became Jake Short and Dorman’s struggles with runners in scoring position. On 4 occasions during the contest, Dorman left runners on. Three of those times, they had a situation where a base hit would have tied the game. But, Short just kept working his way out of trouble. 

 

In the top of the 2nd, Noah McGarity doubled with 2 out. He responded by getting Campbell Whitener to strike out swinging. In the 3rd, with runners at 2nd and 3rd and 2 away, he got Colton Earnhardt to go down looking. In the fourth, following a leadoff walk and a single, Jake pulled the string and got McGarity and Aaron Sturgill swinging with a pop up to the shortstop sandwiched between. In the 5th, he got pinch hitter Ian Thomas to whiff. In total, Short racked up 7 strikeouts while allowing no runs on 4 hits with 3 walks. 

 

“Jake’s been as consistent as they come all year. This makes him 6-0. He fills up the zone and he is a competitor. You could see it a few times in this game. He got himself into a jam and he got out with a strikeout”, said Hollifield. 

 

Connor Wells also did a good job once he settled down after the first inning. In the 2nd, after a leadoff base knock, and a stolen base with 1 out, he got Jaxson Camp and Nic Degler to ground out back to back to mitigate a threat. Wells went on to turn in one of his longest outings of the season, finally managing to pitch into the 5th. He worked back to back 3 up 3 down frames in the 3rd and 4th, logging 2 strikeouts and a walk before meeting his undoing in the 5th. 

 

After issuing a 1 out walk to Jaxson Camp and allowing him to take 2nd on a wild pitch with 2 down, Connor Crenshaw added a crucial insurance run with an RBI single up the middle. Following that, Jack Jolly put the ball in the hand of Campbell Whitener to try and hold the Rebel lead to 3. He managed to do just that, coercing Payne Sheriff into a 6-3 grounder to end the inning. 

 

Unfortunate circumstances (not an injury) ended Jake Short’s night in the 5th inning, meaning clinching the region title would have to fall on the shoulders of the bullpen. For Taylor Hollifield, the choice of who to go with was a no-brainer. Caleb Jeter. 

 

“We call him our ‘psycho lefty’. He has all the ‘antics’. He is ‘twerky’ and jittery, and he competes. He throws 95. There was nobody else that deserved the ball more than him”, said Coach Hollifield. 

 

Jeter made short work of the Cavaliers, locking up a 2 inning save. He struck out 2 in a 3 up 3 down 6th and allowed just one base runner courtesy of a 2 out infield single to 2nd from Palmer Hornick in the 7th, as Byrnes went on to claim the region title with a 3-0 victory. 

 

“It’s been an uphill battle. At the beginning of the year, we didn’t set our sights on winning a state championship. We made it our goal to win a region championship and go up the ladder from there. These guys have grinded, pushed, and done everything we have asked of them, and that is awesome. Last year we were young and it shocked a lot of people how well we played at the end. We got cold in the playoffs but we played well down the stretch. This year we knew we had a good core with 8 seniors, almost all of whom play. Winning the region was something we thought was possible. It was just a matter of whether or not we could hit well enough to do it”, said Hollifield after the win. 

 

“At the beginning of the year, we focused on doing your job as an individual and doing the little things. We held each other accountable. Tonight, the big thing I told them was to treat this as just another game. Don’t press. You all have been successful all year doing what you do, not trying to do too much, and knowing what kind of team you are. It showed tonight. We played defense, pitched well, and scored just enough to get the job done”, he later added. 

 

For Byrnes, the goal of winning the region may be achieved, but the job of winning the series is far from done. The Rebels will hit the road on Wednesday as the set swings to Ronnie J Sims Field in Roebuck with first pitch set for 6:30 PM. After that, both squads will wrap up the regular season on Friday at “the Backyard” in Duncan. First pitch for the finale is also scheduled for 6:30.



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