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(Updated) Lake View Wins School’s 9th Baseball Title With Four Run Rally In Final Two Innings over Southside Christian 7-6 In Class A Finals, Herlong Has Now Won 8 Titles Since Coming To Lake View In 1994

Lake View Wins School’s 9th Baseball Title With Four Run Rally In Final Two Innings over Southside Christian, 7-6 In Class A Finals, Herlong Has Now Won 8 Titles Since Coming To Lake View In 1994   

By Billy G. Baker

Publisher

Lake View—Of the 9 state baseball championships Lake View High has won since 1938, eight of them have been earned under the tutelage of head coach Kip Herlong, and whether he would ever admit it or not, the Wild Gators 7-6 win over Southside Christian on June, 5 was the most unusual way any of the state championships have been won by this truly storied program.

And when this game was finally over you can certainly give a breath of fresh air to a saying long attributed to former Yankee great Yogi Bera, “It ain’t over until it’s over!” (No kidding!)

Coach Herlong came to Lake View in 1994 and earlier in the 2021 season he earned his 550th career win in the 28 years he has worn a Wild Gator uniform. “Pressure does it and we talked about this with our players over the past month a lot about how pressure burst pipes and makes diamonds, and how we wanted to survive the pressure and make diamonds in the end and we didn’t crack,” said Coach Herlong. “We put a 9th grader (Luke Price ) out there on the mound behind Braxton Dimery, a senior who had given us everything he had even with some errors early on in that first inning. The kids stuck together, and they kept fighting and kept themselves in the game.

Michael Mcinnis came here and threw an inning and we wanted to see how he looked with his knuckle ball in case we needed him behind Thomas Skipper if we had to go to a third game on Monday,” said Coach Herlong. “He did a good job and then we tied it up carter was the one to go to. He had done a great job against Green Sea the other night striking out five of the six batters he faced. He did anther great job coming in tonight also.

“This game is all about how a team handles the pressure and this is why we practice under pressure all the time,” said Coach Herlong. “We are certainly going to miss our five seniors on the team. They are all great kids and they fit into what we needed to do in order to be successful. They led the way they were suppose to, and that is just what I told them a few minutes ago. I am just very proud of them. I am going to miss them but I am also going to be with them, because I am going to follow them when they go off to play college ball.”

Coach Herlong said every season on the first day of practice the goal of winning a state championship is discussed first and foremost. “Our goal is not to win a region championship, or make the play-offs when we start our first practice every season,’ said Coach Herlong. “Our goal is to win a state championship. If you put that goal as your only goal then you will push harder to get it. This crowd pushed throughout the season, not just through a couple early season losses, but they kept pushing all season.”

Lake View’s five seniors were comprised of ace pitcher Thomas Skipper headed to North Greenville College, Noah Carter is headed to the College of Charleston as a catcher, and he could hear his name called in the upcoming major league baseball draft.  Braxton Dimery, Michael Mcinnis and Marquise Johnson round out the seniors and the HSSR spoke with all of them after the game. (Some were more talkative than others).

Going into the final game of the season Carter was batting .537 with six homers and 32 RBI’s. Skipper was 8-0 on the mound with a 0.50 ERA and 99 K’s. Skipper also was batting .354 with two homers and 20 RBI’s. Dimery was 4-0 on the mound with a 1.80 ERA and 44 K’s. Dimery was also batting 450 with19 RBI’s. Michael Mcinnis was at .450 with five RBI’s and Johnson was at .233 with five RBI’s.

Several non-seniors included Michael McDaniel batting .365 with 14 RBI’s, Luke Price at .261 and 7 RBI’s, Chris McGill at ,292 with 12 RBI’s and 8th grader Kason Herlong batted .360 with six RBI’s coming into game two against Southside Christian. 

Skipper was very upbeat after the title game. “I was hoping that I did not have to go on Monday and this win was a great way to go out after four years on the team,” said Skipper who throws his fastball right at 90 MPH. “My biggest secret is keeping the hitters off-balance because I like to throw several different pitchers to keep them guessing. I like the fast ball but I have really hard on improving my curve ball over the past season so having a sharper break on my curve makes my fast ball even harder to hit.

“This state title means everything to me,” said Skipper. “It is what we work for every year. This has been a long time coming. We got close my freshman year and close my sophomore year and last year the Covid thing shut us down completely down and we felt like we had a chance to win state last year too. My goal at the next level is to keep working hard and to keep learning and to be ready when it is time to fill to spot.”

Dimery was the starting pitcher in game two. “My best memory was actually tonight when we were down 3-2 and fought back to win 7-6,” said Dimery. “I have been back on the team the past two years and I am looking forward to being a student at Francis Marion next year.”

 Johnson, a right fielder, has been on the varsity for four years. ” It feels great to come back from behind against a real good team like Southside Christian and this game was a great way to close out my senior year,” said Johnson. “My proudest moment this season was my RBI hit in this game that helped the win. The most important thing is that we came out on top.”

Carter talked with a lot of confidence in his voice and he has been on the team for two years after transferring from Dillon High. “The coaches told me I might have to close the game tonight so I was ready,” he said. “We knew after game one they didn’t have any pitching left for game two that could beat us. I just focused on throwing strikes and throwing hard when I came in.

“Winning a state title was my goal from the get-go this season,” said Carter. ” Going out on top was my total focus this season. This was only my third pitching appearance all season and I was ready to give it my best. My coaches told me that I was going to be on the bottom of the dg pile tonight.”

Carter said he has no idea what his fast-ball moves at but he said if he had to guess he would say high 80’s to the low 90’s. “My POP time to second is 1.92 I do know that,” he said. Carter said the Perfect games has him forecasted as being drafted within the top 10 rounds of the upcoming draft. “If the money is right, I am ready to go but if not, I am excited about playing at the College of Charleston.”    

Trailing Southside Christian 6-3, as they came to bat in the bottom of the 6th inning, some Lake View fans could already be heard discussing travel plans to Lexington High on Monday for the third-game tie-breaker, because up until that point in the game, Southside Christian had been the dominant of the two teams in game two.  It appeared a trip to the midlands was looming for both teams.

In the bottom of the 5th inning the Lake View coaching staff started putting on the “take sign” a little more to their batters, as Southside Christian starting pitcher Nelson Vaughn was nearing the 110 max pitch count allowed by SCHSL rules. With both teams short on pitching, getting Vaughn off the mound would be a major factor in Lake View’s rally.   

Vaughn faced four Lake View batters in the bottom of the sixth inning when Luke Price led-off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch, and then Kason Herlong popped up to the shortstop for the first out.  The third batter for LV was Marquise Johnson who got a clutch single that scored Price to cut the deficit to 6-4.  Then after Vaughn struck-out Michael Mcinnis for the second out of the inning he was forced off the mound due to the pitch-count rule and things unraveled for the Sabres at this point in the game.

Kolby Sentelle relieved Vaughn for SC.  The first Lake View batter he faced (Noah Carter) reached on a hit-by-pitch, then Thomas Skipper and Braxton Dimery drew consecutive walks with Johnson scoring on a wild pitch to cut the deficit to 6-5 with the bases now loaded.

The Sabres final pitching change of the game brought freshman Dru Nelson to the mound to face LV batter Chris McGill who walked on four straight pitches allowing Carter to score to tie the game at 6-6. The Lake View fans were nearing bedlam mode at this point and surely were forgetting about a Monday trip to Lexington.  Sentelle was able to strike-out the 9th Wild Gator batter of the inning for the third out but the momentum of the game had completely changed with a fire baller closer coming to the mound for Lake View in the top of the 7th by the name of Noah Carter, an outstanding catcher who has signed to play at the College of Charleston.

Carter was making only his third appearance on the mound all season due to the fact he was such a valuable catcher behind the plate with a 1.92 POP time to second base. Carter, focused like a starving lion about to capture his prey, pounded the strike zone pitch-after-pitch striking out all three batters he faced in the top of the 7th.

Wild Gator fans will be talking about the final two innings of this championship game in Lake View baseball lore for the ages, “The Fat Lady” began to sing to “Yogi” in the bottom of the 7th inning. After Lake View’s lead-off batter strikes-out, Herlong draws a walk and advances to second on a passed ball. Johnson comes up and hits a ground ball to the left side of the infield and he reaches on a throwing error as Herlong advances to third base. The next LV batter strikes out for the second out of the inning and now the tension is being felt from fans, players and coaches on both teams.  Carter is intentionally walked to load the bases and now the Fat Lady is clearing her vocal cords for one last chorus into Yogi’s Big Ears. 

Thomas Skipper, ace pitcher of the Wild Gators headed to North Greenville to play baseball, steps up to the plate with his game face on. Ball one and the cheers roar from the Lake View stands! Then Ball two, and the roars become intensely louder.  Then some calmness with a called strike one looking. Then Ball 3, and then ball four as the head coach’s 8th grade son, Kason Herlong, perhaps a first -rounder by the end of his senior season four years from now, charges home and crosses the plate as his teammates storm the field to celebrate the comeback win. 

In the top of the first Southside Christian, arriving an hour late for the game due to their charter bus being delayed, jumped out to a 3-0 lead and it looked like the Sabres were a team focused on avenging their 11-2 first game home loss four days earlier. Tyler Harof drew a one- out walk, then Leif Busby singled to put runners on first and second. The next batter strikes out and then Khalil Tolson gets and infield single to load the bases.

Aaron Fortune draws a bases loaded walk to score Harof for a 1-0 lead. Freshman George Massingill then ropes a lined drive single to left field that scores Busby and courtesy runner H. Ashton to give SC an early 3-0 lead.

Lake View responded with two runs in the bottom of the first. Carter, leading- off and batting over .600 coming into the game, triples on a fly ball to center field. Skipper then draws a walk. The next batter strikes out before McGill rips a hard ground ball single to center field to score Carter and Skipper advances to third.  Michael McDaniel brings in Skipper on a ground-out RBI and the score is 3-2 after the first inning.

In the bottom of the third Lake View tied the game at 3. Dimery got a lead-off single to center and two batters later McDaniel draws a one-out walk. Luke Price then singles to load the bases. While Herlong is batting McDaniel scores on an error by the catcher to tie the score.

In the top of the 4th Southside Christian plated three runs to go up 6-3 and it appeared the Sabres had gained the momentum of the game as well as a three- run lead. Jason Hutto led off with a walk and moved to second on a single by Charlie Harof. Tyler Harof then reached on a bunt single to load the bases with no outs. Busby then singled to center scoring courtesy runner D. Freeman and C. Harof to make the score 5-3.  SC scored their sixth and final run when Massingill drew a bases loaded walk to score T Harof to give his team a 6-3 lead that held up until the Wild Gators tallied four runs in the final two innings to win 7-6.

In the game Southside Christian started seven seniors. Sabres head coach Scott Freeman is from Lancaster and he was a teammate of well-known players like Earl Cunningham, Pep Harris and John Barnes. Coach Freeman also head coached Mauldin to the Class AAAA state championship win over Stratford in 2004.

“We have played 56 innings in the playoffs through this game and 55 and 2/3 of those innings have been thrown by freshman and sophomores,” said Coach Freeman. “All three of the guys out there tonight were freshmen. We burned one guy from the other night and we did have our Monday starter ready for the third game if needed but we had the guys we wanted in the game tonight pitching. We just struggled to throw strikes in those last two innings and you can’t win games doing that against quality teams like Lake View.”

Coach Freeman has just concluded his first season at Southside Christian (25-8) and he is assisted by veteran coach Todd Robinson also. The team had a 26- man roster in 2021. “Having seven senior starters made things so much easier for us coming in,” said Coach Freeman. “They bought in to what we were doing. Charlie Harof was our shortstop, Jason Hutto was our catcher, Aaron Fortune was a pitcher and utility player at several positions, along with several very good outfielders like Jake Boyle, Jackson Taylor, Caleb Dyer, and Douglas Workman. We had seven seniors and three of them played meaningful innings for us and we are very proud of how all of them worked hard and supported the team.”

A couple key returning juniors for SC will be three- hole outfielder Leif Busby and center fielder and clean-up batter Brock Holder. Busby and Holder were both all-region and batted over .400. Holder made the coaches all-state team. Eight of the teams 10 pitchers will return also.

At the end of the game Coach Herlong held his first grand- child in his arms “Caroline” at age one might not remember the moment but her mother was wiping away tears of joy taking in the moment of victory.

The very next day Kip Herlong talked about joining his brother, a long- time right hand-man in assisting in the program, at his nephew’s games at North Greenville and Francis Marion College.

With no high school games left to coach this season, the next best thing for this brother coaching duo to engage in is watching nephews and sons having fun playing the great game of baseball at the next level.             

(Next season will be here before you know it).


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