One look at field No. 8 in Citizens Park in Aiken is all it took to confirm that Aiken isn't the host team in name only. The home team has a fan base that outnumbers any of the 12 state championship teams here to compete for a Dixie World Series title.
The visiting team, Texas, brought a handful of faithful fans. Obviously, they made the longest drive of any other team here. That being said, they hope to stay here as long as they can.
Aiken pitcher Ben Donath couldn't have gotten off to a better start. The right-handed hurler struck out the side 1-2-3. Aiken's coming to bat, and the home town fans already have something to cheer about.
Bottom of the first: Aiken 0, Texas 0
The other local team, Columbia County's all-stars, represented the team of Georgia in the 5 p.m. round of games earlier today. Georgia knocked off Alabama 4-1 in eight innings to advance to the second round. The two local teams wouldn't meet in this tournament until the winner's bracket finals.
As flat as the Texas bats were in the top of the first, the Aiken bats are popping. Leadoff man Drew Moler walked and advanced to second on a single by Bryce Clifton. Brandon Poole immediately drove them both home with a two-RBI double down the left field line. Aiken leads 2-0, still batting in the first.
The hits keep coming. Ben Donath, Aiken's pitcher, helped his own cause with an RBI single to right field. Aiken's on top 3-0 still no outs.
The first out for Aiken came on a sacrifice bunt by Andrew Faulkner. He moved Donath to third base. Michael Fekete took a pitch to the arm, but still looked tough trotting down to first base.
Can a game be over in the first inning? If the rest of the contest keeps going like this, we might as well call this one now. Aiken's Ben Wilson, with runners at the corners and one out, tried to bunt. He popped the pitch up just enough to clear the pitcher's glove but not high enough for the second baseman to get to it. Everyone's safe including Donath who scored the fourth run of the game for Aiken.
Cody Heath walked to load the bases for Aiken. I wonder if Caleb Smith, the No. 9 hitter, thought he'd get to bat in the first inning. He's up there now, but he just swung at a pitch in his eyes for strike three. Two outs, bases still juiced.
Moler, in his second at bat of the inning, grounds out to the shortstop to end the first. Four runs on four hits but three men were left on base. It's a great start for Aiken, but will four runs win this ball game?
Top of the second: Aiken 4, Texas 0
Ben Donath just struck out the side again. Two innings- six strikeouts. Wow.
Bottom of the second: Aiken 4, Texas 0
No doubt about it. It's Aiken's night. Leading off the second, Bryce Clifton worked the count to 3-2 before he popped up to shallow centerfield. No one wearing a Texas jersey ever saw the ball, including shortstop Alex Cameron. The ball almost hit him in the head as it fell five feet behind him and Clifton reached first safely.
Proving the four-run first inning was no fluke, the Aiken boys are at it again. Donath bunted the runners over to second and third, and Andrew Faulkner cleared the bases with a two-RBI double in the right-centerfield gap. The home team's up 6-0 and still batting.
After a strike out, Aiken catcher Cody Heath found the hole between third and shortstop with a bouncing two-RBI single. With an 8-0 lead and Aiken still batting, the question arises: Is there a mercy rule at the Dixie World Series?
Top of the third: Aiken 8, Texas 0
Ben Donath is human... well, almost. After striking out the first seven batters he faced. Chris Chance made contact and put the ball in play. Aiken second baseman Ben Wilson was there to snag the ball out of the air for the second out of the inning, but at least it wasn't another strike out.
Donath's perfect game and no-hitter ended after two and two-thirds innings. Texas' No. 9 hitter Brandon Goyne snuck a ground ball underneath Aiken shortstop Brandon Poole's glove for the first Texas hit of the game.
A walk, a wild pitch and a passed ball allowed Texas to threaten with runners on second and third base. Donath got out of the jam by striking out Alex Cameron to end the inning.
Bottom of the third: Aiken 8, Texas 0
Another inning, another Aiken offensive explosion. Brandon Poole, Ben Donath and Andrew Faulkner are the guilty parties this time. Poole lined a shot into centerfield to score Bryce Clifton with an RBI single. Donath plated Poole on the next at bat with a deep double to left-centerfield. Faulkner followed with an RBI double to riight field. We've hit the double-digits now with no end in sight. Aiken 11, Texas 0.
A long overdue pitching change has been made by Texas. Starter Collin Castle is out after two and one-thirds innings pitched saw 11 runs scored on 12 hits. Jake Jeffries is now on the mound for Texas.
Aiken pinch hitter Joseph O'Conor just gave his coach a good reason to start him tomorrow. O'Conor launched a shot deep to left field. He's now huffing and puffing on third base with two RBI to his name.
Aiken now holds a two touchdown lead after Caleb Smith singled up the middle to score O'Connor. Hoping to win the sportsmanship trophy, Aiken did not go for two.
In three innings, Bryce Clifton is now 3-for-3 with a walk. His latest hit, a two-RBI double, just came in the third inning. Those RBI were the seventh and eighth runs of the inning.
Ben Donath is now 2-for-2 with three RBI and two doubles... this inning. Aiken 18, Texas 0.
Faulkner's second double of the inning was two feet away from being a home run. Aiken has 19 runs. I don't think the scoreboard can go to 20.
Texas has a new pitcher, Alex Cameron. Yes, we're still in the third inning.
The longest inning in the history of my life is over. 11 runs, eight hits, three errors, one tired sportswriter. And to answer my previous question- apparently 19 runs after three innings is not enough to force the mercy rule.
Top of the fourth: Aiken 19, Texas 0
Obviously, after that 16-at bat, 11-run marathon of an inning, Ben Donath is no longer pitching for Aiken. He's now grown up, has a wife, three kids and a college degree. Caleb Smith is the new Aiken pitcher.
Smith fared just as well as Donath. Texas went 1-2-3 on three strikeouts in the fourth.
Bottom of the fourth: Aiken 19, Texas 0
We've hit the 20-run mark thanks to an error by the Texas third baseman. Caleb Smith scored and the whole park found out that the scoreboards can indeed post 20 runs.
Top of the fifth: Aiken 20, Texas 0
Another 1-2-3 inning, and thank God for the mercy rule. Aiken wins in the most lop-sided victory of the tournament so far.
Final score: Aiken 20, Texas 0.
Aiken plays their second round game on Sunday at 8 p.m.