Two batters in, it looked like Bluffton High School senior pitcher Chance Murphy was in for a tough night.
A leadoff double by Beaufort High's Brady Cormier was followed by a wild pitch and an RBI groundout by Jordan Clegg, and the Bobcats were in an early hole.
But all's well that ends well. Murphy settled down and the Bobcats' bats got a few assists from some shaky defense as Bluffton rallied to a 4-2 home victory Wednesday night. The win was also the first of the year in region play for the Bobcats, whose seniors also tasted victory over Beaufort for the first time.
"I think we settled down a little bit," head coach Bryant Kitty said of his team after the rocky start. "All year long we struggled offensively. We got some good, timely hits this game with runners in scoring position."
Beaufort added another run in the third after Bluffton shortstop Wes Gillespie failed to cleanly field a grounder, but the Bobcats turned the tables in the bottom half of the inning, taking advantage of a trio of Eagles miscues to pull even. An error, a walk and a single loaded the bases with two outs. Catcher Jack Newmann and third baseman Tim Ortega hit consecutive grounders that led to errors and two Bobcat runs.
"We don't want to stop coaching up until this point," Kitty said. "We kept emphasizing stuff that we've been coaching for years. It's never too late for it to settle in."
Bluffton added a run in the fourth and fifth. First baseman Brent Acree drove in Liam Finn in the fourth. Then Murphy helped his own cause, driving home a run in the fifth with a sharp single to right. Between that clutch swing and his lockdown performance on the mound, Murphy put together quite the closing act.
"I just made sure to get ahead of the batter," Murphy said. "We've had a rough year with errors behind us, but I try to do my best."
Wednesday's win avenged a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Beaufort when the teams last met. This one was also a tight contest, one that despite a few miscues, featured some stellar defense from both sides, including a highlight-worthy diving catch by Bluffton right fielder Alex Waddell in the sixth.
The victory was a special one for the Bobcat seniors, playing in their final regular-season home game. Kitty said Murphy's effort typified the fight his team showed in scrapping their way to a morale-boosting win after a tough season.
"He's been phenomenal all year long" Kitty said. "He's been lights out."
Murphy said the Bobcats have a bright future ahead of them.
"I'm hoping these coaches stay for years to come," Murphy said. "This program, in two or three years, they're going to be the real deal."