Eleven days ago, it appeared Bluffton softball had evened up its best-of-three series with Byrnes High School for the Class 4-A state championship.
But the twists and turns were just beginning. Two days and two new sites later, the Bobcats dropped a suspended Game 3, 1-0, just missing out on the program's first championship.
In the interim, county and school administrators tried to coordinate the logistics of a controversial move after the Game 2 result was overturned on appeal, extending the travel time for both schools in a topsy-turvy series.
On Monday, Beaufort County School District Student Services officer Gregory McCord said he stood by the decision to move the final innings of Game 2, originally a Bluffton home game, to Spring Valley High School in Columbia. The game picked up with one out in the top of the fifth.
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"In looking at the fact that we would be playing on Friday anyway, provided a win, we thought it would be in the spirit in what's right, to go ahead and play the game at the same site," McCord said.
In making the decision, McCord said he was looking out for the best interests of the athletes on each team who had already traveled the three and a half hours to the corresponding school on Monday and Wednesday. Asking Byrnes to do that again for just a short amount of time, when another site was already set up for that day's planned third game, would be too much.
McCord said he considered the fact that the Bobcats would lose their home-field advantage for the close of Game 2, something that drew the criticism of Bluffton coach Bill Ball, but he said he felt confident the Bobcats would be able to hang onto a 3-0 lead.
"That was considered, but you also have to look at the totality of it," McCord said. "If it were first inning, second inning, that would have been given more thought and consideration. We felt pretty confident that up 3-0, that that game was going to pretty much be won."
Bluffton ended up hanging on, 3-2, at Spring Valley High School, which offered to host the remainder of the series after complications with scheduling forced Lexington High School to withdraw as a neutral site.
"My understanding is that somehow or another, Lexington was not available, which was also baffling because we were going to Lexington anyway," McCord said. "There was a question of would we be able to find a venue. We were able to find a school that said, 'hey, we understand you're in a tight spot.' "
After Byrnes won an appeal of an umpire's ruling in Game 2, Ball and his team were forced to refocus, even without knowing for most of Thursday, May 22, where they would be playing the next evening. Ball was frustrated with the decision-making process, saying he heard nothing from McCord or the S.C. High School League.
"I was not involved in this decision whatsoever," Ball said previously, later adding that he hadn't ever been involved in such a strange set of circumstances in his coaching career.
Dru Nix of the SCHSL confirmed they did not have a role in re-scheduling the remainder of the second game.
Ball said he perceived a lack of support from the district with the decision to conclude Game 2 at a neutral site, but was also frustrated that the SCHSL did not consult him during the appeal ruling.
Last Friday, Ball said he would probably never feel that he was "on the same page" with the district regarding the scheduling decision. McCord, who did not speak with Ball, said his role was to address contingencies with the school principal rather than directly with the head coach.
Bluffton High principal Mark Dievendorf confirmed that he and athletics director Dave Adams hoped to keep the remainder of Game 2 in Bluffton, but the combination of extensive travel for the Rebels and a desire to show good sportsmanship led to the decision to shift the conclusion to Columbia.
"It was decided that it would be in the best interest of all parties," Dievendorf said.
Adams on Friday referred all questions on the matter to McCord.
Dievendorf said it was not unusual for McCord to be involved in a decision like this.
"We try hard to keep him in the loop with any athletic issues that are going on," Dievendorf said.
McCord said Dievendorf spoke with him following the conclusion of Game 2 to let him know there was a pending appeal that could change the outcome.
"Initially it started out with a notification of the possibilty." McCord said.
From there, McCord had continued discussions with Dievendorf and worked to determine the best solution to the scheduling conundrum.
"Everything that was discussed was discussed in a collaborative way," McCord said. "My only focus is to not take away from what these young ladies achieved."
Dievendorf said he will always look out for the best interests of his teams, and remained in touch with the Byrnes principal to coordinate scheduling and review the merits of the Rebels' protest.
"There were details with regard to the protest that I was trying to understand," Dievendorf said. "I was advocating for our team and our girls."
Ultimately, Game 3 was also suspended after a weather delay, and the series concluded at South Aiken High School.
McCord said he supports Bluffton athletics "one hundred percent," and made the decision with the students in mind.
"I couldn't comprehend what all the venom was for," McCord said. "You want to do what you think is right. One thing I want people to know is I didn't try to run away from the decision. I went to the game and sat in the stands. I'm always going to do what's in the best interest of kids."