Everybody loves a rivalry. This past weekend’s college basketball classic against Duke and North Carolina pitted two rivals whose campuses are less than ten miles apart. Tuesday night’s classic high school baseball game also featured schools that are about ten miles apart: Nation Ford and Fort Mill.
With Duke and North Carolina, you have some ill will in the stands. Nation Ford and Fort Mill can do the exact same thing. In fact, I dare you to name a fiercer high school rivalry in the area than these two. The first of a three-game series started tonight at Fort Mill High School, where the Yellow Jackets were home to defend their turf and their unbeaten record.
Junior pitcher Magdiel Cotto transferred from Pennsylvania during the holidays and was experiencing his first game against the Yellow Jackets. The atmosphere didn’t disappoint. With every pitch, there was cheering. With every pitch, there was also some groaning from the other side. Welcome to “The Rivalry”. In the fourth inning, the Falcons’ Cotto hit Fort Mill left fielder Carson Jones with a pitch. Jones took exception and had some words with Cotto on his way down to first base. Welcome to “The Rivalry”. When it comes to “The Rivalry”, things can get tense.
Although the game was entertaining, the tension you could cut with a knife. Yellow Jackets starter, junior Mikey Tepper, a UNC-Charlotte commit, was a little shaky in the first inning, throwing 32 pitches to Nation Ford hitters. Cotto for the Falcons, on the other hand, set down three Fort Mill hitters in order in the Yellow Jackets’ half of the inning, two of them strikeouts.
The game went along smoothly in the second, with both pitchers settling into what looked like a pitchers’ duel. Tepper set down the Falcons in order and Cotto faced the minimum after Yellow Jackets’ first baseman Connor Manco singled and was subsequently caught stealing second base. That’s when the tension rose and the action became faster.
The Falcons struck first in the top half of the third inning when senior shortstop Tyler Causey singled with two outs on a hard liner to right field. With catcher Justin Lehman at the plate, Causey stole second on a delayed steal, and then Lehman laced an opposite field double to left center to score Causey. The next batter, second baseman Xavier Cumbee then doubled in courtesy runner Justin Kelso to make the score 2-0 Nation Ford.
Fort Mill didn’t take long to make up the deficit. In the bottom of the third inning, Yellow Jackets’ shortstop Brady Stone executed a perfect squeeze play to score right fielder Dylan Helms. Designated hitter Patrick Matthews, who doubled earlier in the inning, scored on a passed ball to tie the score at 2.
In the fourth inning after Nation Ford went down in order, Fort Mill took the lead for good. Two hits for the Yellow Jackets by Connor Manco and Connor Rasmussen, a hit batter and a couple of defense miscues pushed two more runs across for Fort Mill, and that’s all Tepper would need to close the Falcons out of this game. Nation Ford threatened in the seventh inning as junior right fielder Nathan Mahaffey scored on a Causey single, but closer Keenan Sumner was able to make just enough pitches to finish the game, with Fort Mill winning 4-3. The Falcons left two runners on base in the seventh.
You could feel the relief on the Fort Mill side of the stands after Cumbee grounded out to end the game; the fans felt like they barely escaped. If this series continues the high drama that this game had tonight, Duke and North Carolina may have its rivalry equaled in intensity. Fort Mill improves to 8-0 on the season, and 1-0 in Region 3-5A play. Nation Ford, who had a two-game winning streak coming into tonight, falls to 4-3 and 0-1 in Region 3-5A play. The two teams square off again tomorrow night at 6:30 at Nation Ford.