Perfect ending proves elusive for Thoroughbreds




GILBERT, S.C. --- When Ben Donath played on the South Aiken High School junior varsity baseball team as a seventh- and eighth-grader, he got an up close view of how the "big kids" used to play the game.

Donath now leaves the game as one of the "big kids," one who along with seniors Chris Brooks and Stephen Leopard, left a legacy to remember.

There was no Disney ending for the Thoroughbreds on Friday night. They ran into a buzzsaw named Forrest Koumas, a right-hander who's heading to the University of South Carolina in the fall, in a 3-1 loss to Lugoff-Elgin.

But the reason several hundred fans hung around the dugout and applauded the players afterward was because of what transpired throughout the season. South Aiken advanced to its first championship series, winning a Lower State title along the way and collecting 26 wins in 33 tries.

"This is the best group of guys I've been around. I love them to death," Donath said. "We did what we wanted to do. We got here. It just didn't fall our way."

South Aiken won the first game of the series, 3-1, Monday at home. Then, Lugoff-Elgin claimed an 8-1 victory on its turf two nights later.

At neutral site Gilbert High School, Koumas and fellow South Carolina recruit Andrew Faulkner faced off again. This time, Koumas was nearly unhittable.

South Aiken's batters mustered just four hits -- no one with more than one. Brooks hit a double, while Grayson Smith, Nate Kuhns and Tanner Hawley had singles.

Koumas sparkled on the mound, striking out every Thoroughbred batter at least once. Utilizing a wicked slider, he finished with 13 strikeouts and didn't allow an earned run.

"I've played a heckuva lot of baseball. I've faced a lot of pitchers," Donath said. "He's one of the toughest ones I've ever faced."

Koumas said: "I've got a great team, great defense. I just tried to throw it in there and make them hit it."

The Demons senior might have had a bigger impact at the plate. Koumas blasted a two-run homer in the fifth inning which provided the deciding margin.

Faulker, who struck out 13 in a complete-game win in the series opener, pitched 4Q innings, allowing two earned runs while striking out three. Leopard, who replaced Faulkner in the fifth, made just one bad pitch in relief, a fastball over the plate that Koumas didn't miss. Faulkner and Leopard combined to allow just six hits.

South Aiken had opportunities to score runs, but it couldn't maintain any momentum at the plate. In the second, the Thoroughbreds had runners at first and third with no outs. But a failed hit-and-run led to a double play. Then, center fielder Blake Outlaw made a diving catch of a Hawley bloop shot.

In the sixth, Smith and Kuhns stood at first and third with two outs. Smith scored when third baseman E.J. Ruiz failed to handle a grounder by Brooks. But Koumas escaped any more damage by striking out Ragan Newell.

"We had our chances," Brooks said. "We just didn't capitalize on them."

"We battled. We don't have nothing to be ashamed of," South Aiken coach Bob Polewski said. "It's been a great year. I'm proud of our kids."