As Hilton Head Prep’s Gavin Hurlbut came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning, representing the Dolphins’ final out — the same distinction he had the night before — the rain started to fall.
Calhoun Academy’s Will Spiers, who had come on in relief for Blake Huddleston an inning earlier, had gotten both Nic Luchessi and Tyler Fox to pop out to the Cavaliers’ first baseman.
On a 1-2 count, Spiers delivered a breaking ball, which Hurlbut chased. He missed, but Calhoun’s catcher couldn’t corral the pitch.
Hurlbut, realizing the ball was loose, started running toward first. The catcher scrambled after the ball, which was near Hurlbut’s feet, and inadvertently tripped the runner. Hurlburt went down. The catcher collected the ball. Hurlbut was tagged out.
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The final play of Game 3 of SCISA Class 2-A title series, which Calhoun won 3-2 on Thursday night in Manning to repeat as state champions, was representative of the Dolphins’ efforts during the contest. Prep played gutsy baseball, climbing back from a 3-0 deficit — as it had done the night before — to make it close. Ultimately, though, the Cavaliers’ pitching was just too strong.
Huddleston, who started on the mound for Calhoun, struck out seven batters and seemed to get stronger as the game went on before plunking back-to-back batters in the bottom of the fifth and giving up back-to-back hits in the bottom of the sixth.
He allowed two runs and didn’t allow a hit until the bottom of the fourth, when Prep’s EJ Churchich doubled down the left-field line.
The Dolphins’ starter, Reese Irwin, pitched well, but didn’t have the level of command that Huddleston showed.
Irwin looked shaky in the first inning, walking the Cavaliers’ Robert Lewis on four straight pitches. He looked shakier still as he faced the next batter, Fuller Prickett, and threw a ball in the dirt that catcher Churchich struggled to corral. That allowed Lewis to advance to second base.
But Irwin settled down and jammed Prickett inside with a fastball, causing him to pop out to second baseman Aidan Sanz. Irwin proceeded to fan the next two batters to get out of the inning.
Calhoun Academy got things going in the top of the second when Irwin plunked two batters in a row to start the frame. With Chipper Brown and Huddleston on first and second base, respectively, Prep coach Dobbie Green ventured out to the mound to talk to Irwin.
Irwin seemed to take the talk to heart, fanning lefty Kyle Gray for the first out of the inning. But that brought up Christopher Phillips, who laid down a bunt on the first pitch he saw. Irwin couldn’t make a play, and the bases were loaded.
Designated hitter Lawton Wright faced a full count before drawing a walk, driving in Chipper Brown to make the score 1-0.
Irwin fanned the next batter, Robert Lewis, for the second out of the inning.
Prickett, who hit a home run in Game 2, then hit a shallow flare to second baseman Aidan Sanz, who jumped up for it but couldn’t hang on. Huddleston and Phillips came home to make the score 3-0.
Irwin got out of the inning by getting Will Spiers to line out to the first baseman.
Prep got on the board in the bottom of the fifth after Ricky Ledee and Sanz were hit by pitches. Nic Luchessi drew a two-out walk to load the bases, and Tyler Fox was also walked. That brought home Ledee, and Prep trailed 3-1.
In the bottom of the sixth, Prep threatened again.
Irwin knocked a double to deep left field and Kyle Adkins followed with a flare over the right side of infield. The Dolphins had runners at the corners with one out.
Spiers came on in relief for Calhoun and proceeded to strike out Ledee with a nasty breaking ball. Sanz came up with two outs and the tying run at first.
Sanz struck out, but Calhoun’s catcher couldn’t hang onto the ball. Irwin came around to score as Sanz beat out the catcher’s throw to first. Hurlbut grounded out to end the inning.
Prep trailed 3-2, and that’s where the score stayed.
Irwin struck out six batters for Prep, and Hurlbut and Fox added another strikeout each in relief.
A Calhoun player described the field at Lawrence Manning Academy as “soggy” during pregame warm-ups.
The rain, though, held off until the very end.