Winterboro has rarely, if-ever, advanced past the first round of the playoffs in baseball, but that streak of bad luck shattered on Thursday when the Bulldogs swept Keith 16-11 and 17-3.
“I used that as a motivating factor,” Winterboro coach Alex Johnson said, concerning the program’s track record in the playoffs. “I told these guys that they could be part of a little bit of history. … Using that as a motivating factor of ‘guys, this does not happen often. This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity that you get to play for this.’”
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 7-0 lead in game one, but Johnson said his players “got a little tight” when Keith made it 7-6. Sophomore pitcher Kaden Reed struck out seven of the 21 batters he faced in the final four innings to help Winterboro secure the first victory.
The second game wasn’t near as competitive, perhaps in part because the Bulldogs kept Keith’s defense out in the field for long stretches early in the game. Johnson said he felt like that much time out in the heat hurt the opposing team from a physical standpoint.
Of course, Johnson felt like the Bulldogs had other advantages in the second game.
“What it does to you psychologically losing the first game of a double-header,” Johnson said. “You feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle anyway.”
Three to know
— Perhaps the biggest difference between the games was the arm of freshman Hunter Willis who pitched all five innings. Willis struck out nine of 22 batters faced while allowing only one hit.
— Willis was almost as dominant at the plate as he was on the mound. His best work came in the first game, where he hit a home run. Overall he finished the day with six hits on seven at-bats, including the homer and a hit for double. He also scored six runs and drove in an additional five runners.
— Troy McKinney stole a team-best 13 bases on Thursday, which allowed him to lead the team in runs scored with seven.
— Johnson on the timing of a now not-needed game three being scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday moments before game two started on Thursday: “I knew then we needed to win and we needed to win right then because we got up at 5:30 this morning to head down so all my guys were exhausted and I don’t know that it would have ended well. So I’m glad we were able to do it in two today.”
— Johnson on McKinney getting on base after getting hit by pitches three separate times: “Which I find is impressive because as aggressive as we are on bases, a hit by a pitch for him is an automatic double. I mean, we’re talking about a possible state champion in track in a couple of days.”
— Winterboro will face the winner of Kinston/Choctaw County. The exact dates of that series have yet to be decided, but round two should play out between April 29 and May 1.