AAA State Championship: St. James Sharks at Union Yellow Jackets, Game 1


By: Barry Mabry – May 16, 2011

Game One’s of the State Championship Series got underway in South Carolina this evening and here in the Upstate, DP treated itself to the AAA matchup between the Lower State champion St. James Sharks against Upper State champs Union County Yellow Jackets. Both clubs bring a ton of intensity to the field and we were sure to see a barn-burner. With bad thunderstorms looming the area, fans knew it was only a matter of time before the bottom fell out; and boy did it ever! A good chunk of the game was played before rain cut it short so let’s get to it…

-Rice strong in Jackets victory-

Union, making their first appearance to the State Championship game since 1974, sent Ricky Rice to the mound for game one against St. James’ Preston Lane. Both teams come in with a lot of confidence, having to win two in the Upper/Lower state games to advance to tonight.

The Sharks jumped out to a lead in the top of the first. Tanner English led the game off with a rocket double down third base line. Anthony Cossentino bunted English to third and Gunnar Heidt plated him with a sac fly to centerfield. Sharks up, 1-0. Union answered quickly in the bottom half. Leadoff hitter Jake Walton took the first pitch from Lane and deposited it to the right-centerfield for a stand-up double. Lane retired the next two hitters and looked to be getting out of the jam but a throwing error to first base on a routine 5-3 allowed Union to tie the game up 1-1.

Rice threw up a goose egg in the top of the second inning, striking out two.

Dillon Barber led the second inning off for the Jackets with a single and Rice advanced him with a sac bunt. With two outs, Joe Beatty came through with a clutch RBI-single to put his team ahead 2-1.

Rice went 1-2-3 in the top half of the third to get his team back in the dugout quickly, which paid off. Once again with two outs the Jackets scored a run. After Josh Simpson hit a chopper single, eight-hole batter Cal Arnold smoked a line drive, which was misjudged by leftfielder Marshall McClary for a RBI-double making it a 3-1 game.

St. James loaded the bases in the fourth but came up empty-handed. Lane went 1-2-3 in the bottom half and Union matched that in the top of the fifth inning as the rain began to fall. Score still 3-1.

Lane’s night ended in the bottom of the fifth inning after Brett Duckett’s lead-off double. Catcher Robert Troiano relieved Lane and got the next two hitters to ground out, bringing up another two-out situation. Troiano sailed a fastball over the catcher’s head, allowing a run to cross making it 4-1.

A light drizzle slowly turned into a torrential downpour within minutes but it didn’t stop play or the Sharks from cutting the lead to two. A lead off walk by Rice brought Lane to the plate. Lane hit a chopper over third base for a single. McClary (who got burnt on a double the inning before) came up with a fisted bloop single to shallow centerfield. On the relay in, centerfielder Beatty heaved the ball over the second baseman’s head all the way to the Sharks dugout, allowing St. James to score and making it a 4-2 game. With rain pouring down, Rice found an extra gear and struck two of the next three hitters out.

The umpires pulled all players off the field while St. James was warming up and be glad they did because the bottom fell out of the sky for the next hour or so. This game was banged, giving Union the victory and a 1-0 lead in the series. 

** St. James hosts Union for Game Two Wednesday night.

Final Score: Union 4 St. James 2  WP: Ricky Rice  LP: Preston Lane  2B: English (SJ), Walton (UC), Arnold (UC), Duckett (UC)

-Prospect Info: St. James-

englisht-contactproday11.jpgTanner English-Senior, USC Signee, OF: Not a good ‘results’ night for English but he flashed plenty of tools to mention. I really enjoyed his patience in his first AB, which was rewarded. English smoked a hooking double down the third base line after falling behind early in the count (4.22 on the turn). In his second AB, English tried to pull a slick one by bunting on a late-in-the-count curveball but Union’s rock-hard field took away from the roll and even though getting down the line in 3.73 seconds, he was retired. Where English is a difference-maker is on defense, but he didn’t get to showcase that tonight much either. There is no question about his attributes, nor his love for the game as I have seen him perform many times. This kid may have that ‘X factor’ that some star athletes never possess which is the ability to shine in the spotlight. It is as if he feeds off being that guy and he takes all responsibilities that come along with being that guy. He is just a pleasure to watch play, plain and simple.   

Robert Troiano-Senior, USC-Aiken Signee, C/RHP: Troiano is a duel option for any team. He is solid behind the dish and flashes 84-86 MPH from the bump with arm-side run. Seems to be a team guy and a gamer. Arm looks good from behind the plate but has some mechanical issues that hinder is pop time (2.15-2.20).

heidtgunnar-stance10.jpgGunnar Heidt-Senior, C of C Signee, SS: Same goes for Heidt as it did for English as to getting the opportunities to showcase abilities, but Heidt has some silky smooth actions over there at SS. Another guy that isn’t shy about being in the spotlight, and actually probably operates better in it.

Notable: Anthony Cossentino (Senior, USC Sumter, 2B)

-Prospect Info: Union County-

Ricky Rice-Senior, Uncommitted, RHP: I have seen Rice the past three times I have seen Union and I can tell you this, he loves competing. Talk about making big time pitches in big time situations, here is your man. Now he isn’t going to wow you (79-84 MPH) but he is extremely confident in locating that fastball and even more confident in yanking the over-the-top curveball, which he did tonight to strike out six of the seven he retired via the strikeout. A kid like this needs to find a home next year because with the right fit, Rice could flourish. And if he does, he has that killer mentality already.

duckettbrett-stance11.jpgBrett Duckett-Senior, USC Upstate signee, C: Best I have seen him and you could see it coming. Duckett might be in that in-between stage right now where, within the year, he could be a nightmare for pitchers. He was great behind the dish tonight and took better hacks than I have seen in the past. Duckett possesses many attributes in the right areas that if two of three things begin to click, he makes a tremendous jump. 2.18 pop, 4.83 on the turn.

Notables: Joe Beatty (Senior, CF), Cal Arnold (Junior, C/DH)