With their young muse, Kennedy Branham, in attendance, the state's top-ranked Lexington Wildcats knocked off arch-rival White Knoll on Thursday night in an elimination game to advance to the Class 4A Lower State baseball championship.
Riding strong pitching from A.J. Hart, timely hitting, and nearly error-free ball, the Wildcats won 5-1 over the Timberwolves in front of a capacity crowd at their county rival's home field.
"I think we got five hits apiece, but we got the ones when it mattered," Lexington Coach Brian Hucks said after the game to WLXM-FM radio.
In the win, the Wildcat's avoided elimination in their quest for the state crown -- a championship run they have dedicated to Kennedy, a 13-year-old Lexington middle-schooler who is battling a brain cancer that is rare in children and extremely difficult to treat.
Now, the Wildcats must travel back to Summerville and Ashley Ridge High School, the scene of a 10-2 massacre on Monday night. In that game against the Swamp Foxes, the Wildcats played and lost arguably their worst game of the season, beset by poor pitching and hitting, not to mention uncharacteristic defensive breakdowns, which included four errors. Second-ranked Ashley Ridge, undefeated in the playoffs so far, also beat White Knoll earlier in the playoffs.
With that loss Monday night, and under the playoffs' double elimination format, the Wildcats now must win two straight against undefeated Ashley Ridge this weekend if they hope to advance to next week's state championship game.
Lexington coach Brian Hucks said the Wildcats will place their ace, Josh Reagan, on the mound for Friday's game.
"We're going to give the ball to Josh … he's been our guy all year," Hucks said. "I told A.J., give us a chance, we need to have a quality start by you tonight. I told him we need you to go deep so we can keep everybody else [fresh]. We've got nine guys that are ready to go tomorrow. We're looking forward to the opportunity."
Note: Friday night's game against the Swamp Foxes begins at 6 p.m. and can be heard locally in the Lexington area on WLXM-FM 107.9 and via the radio station's Web site. Also, Lexington Patch will provide game highlights via its Twitter feed.
A win for Kennedy
Amidst the crowd, which spilled out of the stands along the fence lines and concourse at White Knoll, one piece of apparel stood out -- Lexington students, parents, and fans wearing "Win it 4 Kennedy" tee shirts.
Hucks said the school had sold nearly 500 of the shirts, at $10 apiece, with proceeds to help defray the costs of Kennedy's treatment.
"Our student population at Lexington High School has been incredible. We had 200 people in line trying to buy tee-shirts. So I had to order 250 more just to fill the order," Hucks said. "All the funds are going to Kennedy's family … it's really been a special week at Lexington High School."
Kennedy, her mother Erin said this week, just finished her first round of chemotherapy. On May 17, the young girl will get a much-deserved break, with a trip to the Bahamas sponsored by the Make-a-Wish Foundation. On May 28, Kennedy will undergo an MRI to see if the treatment has helped, her mother told Patch.
On Thursday, Kennedy and the team learned that the "Win it 4 Kennedy" video had won the Wildcats the distinction of being the nation's most dedicated team, in a national contest sponsored by sports protective-gear maker, EvoShield.
"I can't watch [that video] without getting emotional," Hucks said. "It's a true testament to our kids and to her and the battle she fights every day, and the battle our kids fight for her."
Kennedy's presence Thursday night was a huge catalyst for the team, the coach said.
"We had a huge boost with Kennedy being here tonight," he said. "When we saw her there, I looked at the guys and said there is no way we're losing tonight. I said she's here, we're not going to lose in front of her. That was a big spark for us early in the game."
Now the battle moves to Ashley Ridge, and Hucks said his team is fully primed.
"We're going to finish writing this story," he said. "We've got two more big ones to get tomorrow."