By Michael Crouchley
SPARTANBURG — The West-Oak High School baseball team saw its historic season come to a close on Saturday, as it fell to Gilbert in Game 3 of the Class 3A State championship series at USC Upstate.
The Warriors lost to Gilbert 12-3 in a game that was interrupted by a nearly two-hour weather delay, coming up one game short of the title in the program’s first-ever trip to State.
Still, after defying all expectations this season, head coach Nick Groomes and the Warriors aren’t hanging their heads.
“This whole run has been the most surreal thing that I’ve ever been a part of,” Groomes said. “These kids weren’t picked to make the playoffs, they weren’t picked to win the region, they weren’t picked to get out of the district and they weren’t picked to win the Upper State. Somehow they just found a way to keep proving people wrong.
“They’ve been counted out time and time again, but they just continue to come on a daily basis and work hard. When we look back at this team, those are things we’re going to remember — just how tight knit they were, just how hard they worked and how they always believed that they were going to find a way to get it done.”
Coming off a 6-0 win on Thursday to force the decisive Game 3, West-Oak (20-9) found itself in a hole from the jump. Gilbert (17-8) put up a monster first inning, highlighted by a two-run homer from Ashby Vining, to jump out to a 6-0 lead early.
The Warriors hit back in the bottom of the frame, as Jordan Eaton scored on an error, followed by a two-run single from Kurt Rogers to cut the deficit in half.
The score remained at 6-3 through the fourth inning — which was completed after the lengthy delay — as Gilbert starter Edwin Amerson and West-Oak reliever Austin Merritt stabilized the game.
After the weather delay, the Gilbert bats woke back up. The Indians added three more runs in the fifth inning before putting up two in the sixth — including Vining’s second homer of the game, this time a solo shot. Gilbert added one more run in the seventh to round out the scoring.
“I knew that we would fight, but I didn’t know how much we would have left,” Groomes said. “Our boys fought. They gave everything they had, but I just don’t think we had anything else to give today. That’s a credit to Gilbert — they had a tremendous team, a tremendous season, and we tip our hats to those guys.”
Gilbert, like West-Oak, was defying expectations by making it this far in the first place. After a shaky start to the season, the Indians entered the playoffs unranked, and head coach Ashley Burnett said he was proud of how his team persevered.
“Early in the season, we were struggling a little bit,” he said. “And then when it got to playoff time, we were starting to see some of the pieces come together, so we just had to sit there and hold on for the ride. We’ve had to be resilient, and I’m just proud of them and what they accomplished today.”
After a stellar season that culminated in West-Oak’s first State championship appearance, Groomes is hoping that this year’s team will help build the foundation for the future of the program.
“At some point there’s going to come a time where I’m able to sit back and reflect on everything we were able to accomplish this year — this group is so special,” Groomes said. “I hurt for our players today, but I couldn’t be more proud of a group of young men. This team has set a standard for every team after us to live up to.”
Gilbert 12, West-Oak 3
GHS 600 023 1 — 12 12 1
WO 300 000 0 — 3 7 4
WP — Amerson, 7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2 K
LP — Rogers, 0.2 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 0 K
GHS — Vining 3-4, 2 HR, 2B, 3 RBI, 3 R; Parker 2-4, RBI, R; Jennings 1-3, 2B, 2 R, BB
GHS — Gibson 3-4, 2 2B, R; Rogers 2-3, 2 RBI; Eaton 2-4, R
[email protected] | (864) 882-2386
Follow on Twitter @crouchwrites