It didn't matter what his numbers said. Ryan Ward was still prepared to take the blame.
The Lowcountry Heat star left the mound of Monday night's playoff opener against Orangeburg with 14 strikeouts in hand and another three RBIs at the plate. But none of it mattered to the southpaw, who surrendered four runs in a game-tying seventh before his baserunning blunder an inning later killed a Heat rally.
"I'm hard on myself," he said afterward. "I'm my No. 1 critic. I would have definitely put the blame on myself."
But baseball often has a penchant for the dramatic, and Ward got his much-desired shot at atonement a few frames later. The Lowcountry veteran didn't disappoint, either, as his single to right-center field with the bases loaded helped deliver an 8-7 walk-off win in 10 innings, as the Heat took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five American Legion series.
"I wanted it," Ward said. "I had to redeem myself someway. I got it."
Ward had allowed just two runs through his first six innings of work while his offense belted out six runs off Orangeburg starter Zach Massengale, including's Grant Youmans' solo homer in the second and Ward's two-run single an inning later.
"Wild," Ward said. "We were on them early. We outplayed them. We just gave too many outs away."
Those errors were what allowed Orangeburg to stay in it, as five Heat miscues helped Post 4 crawl back into a 6-all stalemate.
Orangeburg picked up its first two runs of the critical seventh inning on Taylor Place's throwing error at third base before Cameron Huddleston tied the game with a two-run single, officially ending Ward's night after 142 pitches in the process.
"It's very difficult to win a game when you give the other team more than 27 outs," coach Chris Seelbach said. "It put us in a situation where we had to battle. To the credit of our kids, they didn't stop playing."
But couple their defensive frustrations with the work of righty Tucker McGee, who silenced the Heat through his first five innings out of the bullpen, and Post 185 looked to be on its way to a frustrating playoff opener.
That certainly looked to be the case in the 10th, when Orangeburg took the go-ahead lead on a throwing error by Heat reliever Jake Martin, who sailed a throw over the head of first baseman Caleb Martin on a tapper back to the mound by Aaron Crandall. It came two innings after Ward was gunned down at home trying to score the go-ahead run as Orangeburg completed a strikeout with a throw to first.
"My kids battled back hard," Post 4 coach Frank Leysath said. "My kids deserved to win."
But the Heat never panicked, as Kevin Hickey -- who finished with four hits -- led off the bottom half of the 10th with a double. Place brought him home with a game-tying single to knot the score at seven runs apiece.
That's when things got murky, though. Leysath's club finished the game in protest because Place took second on the run-scoring play when Post 4 third baseman Jamie Collins was ruled for obstruction as Hickey rounded third.
An errant throw from left field allowed Place to take the extra base, but it came after the umpiring crew had ruled a dead ball.
"It's hard when the momentum is taken from you," said Leysath, who was told Place took second on account of the bad throw from the outfield.
The Heat made sure to capitalize from there, as John Sheehan forced a walk before Martin loaded the bases with a bunt single. That set the stage for Ward, who ended things on a first pitch fastball in on the hands from Huddleston.
The Heat now turn their sights to tonight, where right-hander Nic Levy will take the mound at Orangeburg in the hopes of putting Post 185 one win away from advancing.
Post 4 Orangeburg 100 001 400 1 - 7 9 2
Post 185 Lowcountry 122 100 000 2 - 8 15 5
WP: Jake Martin 3 1-3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K.
LP: Tucker McGee 5+ IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 H, 0 BB, 2 K.
Top hitters: Orangeburg -- Cameron Huddelston 3 for 5, 2 RBI; Aaron Crandall 2 for 6, 2 R; Jamie Collins 2 for 4, 2 R. Lowcountry -- Kevin Hickey 4 for 5, 2B, 2 R, RBI; Caleb Martin 3 for 4, 3B, R; JD Reichel 2 for 4, 2B, R; Taylor Place 1 for 5, R, RBI.