AIKEN — The errors helped in the beginning and the bats assisted closer to the end, but John Leopard and the defense behind him was the constant force through it all.
The pitcher threw a one-hit shutout as South Aiken routed Sumter, 9-0, on Wednesday night at South Aiken to take the SCHSL Class AAAA District VI championship.
The Thoroughbreds next play at home Saturday, when they will be one of four teams still in contention for a Class AAAA Lower State title.
“We can’t get too cocky,” Leopard said. “We got to stay somewhere in the middle.”
Leopard seemed to get stronger as the game neared its conclusion. After surrendering a two-out single in the third and battling control issues early in the fourth, Leopard retired the last 11 batters.
“If you can get three pitches over for strikes, that’s pretty tough right there,” coach Bob Polewski said.
At the plate, South Aiken (14-9) benefitted from poor Sumter fielding early.
In the first, Blue Sanderson and Cory Bryant reached on hits prior to a throwing error on a double steal and then another error with two outs. One run came home on each miscue as South Aiken quickly went ahead 2-0.
After an error in the second – this one by Gamecocks starting pitcher Andrew Reardon – a Sanderson sacrifice fly meant the Thoroughbreds added another run despite not getting a hit in the inning.
From there, the bats came alive during a six-run fifth.
Bryant followed a leadoff walk with a crushed triple as one of five players to earn an RBI in the inning. Sumter needed to change pitchers twice to get three outs.
At the same time, South Aiken’s defense aided Leopard’s one-hit showing.
The fielders were especially clutch in the top of the third, with a diving catch in left retiring one before a nice play at second came right after the Gamecocks’ lone hit of the night on a single to right field.
“That’s what it takes,” Polewski said. “You have to have that type of performance defensively.”