Cycs finish strong, knock off Griffins

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By Travis Jenkins

On senior night at Chester, a senior stepped up and helped his team win an important region contest…with a little help from a freshman.

The Cyclones closed out region play with a 5-3 victory over Fairfield Central. Chester built an early lead, scoring single runs in each of the first three innings. To lead off the home half of the first, Anthony McCullough tried to lay down a bunt for Chester. He got a little more air under it than he wanted, but it handcuffed the Griffins third baseman and his late throw was errant, sending the speedy outfielder to second base. He got to third on a passed ball, but was still standing there with two outs. Senior Luke Blanchett took care of that, stroking a single that plated McCullough and gave Chester a 1-0 lead.

“That was big for us to get on the board early. Luke really came through for us,” said Cyclones Coach Chris Powell.

In the second, Luke Wright drew walk, stole second and advanced to third on a passed ball. Jordan Price got him in with a sacrifice fly to boost Chester’s lead to 2-0. McCullough was a catalyst again in the third, reaching base on an error and scoring on a J.D. Carter single to make it a 3-0 game.

Wright, a freshman, got the start on the mound for the Cyclones. Powell decided to go with him because he’d pitched so well in an earlier 19-2 Chester win over the Griffins. Fairfield Central looked to have something going in the first with Trey Williams hitting a shot back up the middle, but Trent Johnson made a terrific diving stop to record the out. Wright got the Griffins in order (with two strikeouts) in the second and pitched around a hit batsman to avoid trouble in the third. He hit another batter in the fourth but Johnson made another diving stab of a catch to wipe out a certain hit and keep the Griffins at bay. In fact, the visitors were hitless until the fifth when pinch-hitter Antonio Jackson came up with a solid single. The next batter walked, and after a fly ball out Montavious Thompson got his team on the board with an RBI single. Stanley McManus brought another one in with a sacrifice fly and it was suddenly a 3-2 ball game. Still, Powell was pleased with how his freshman hurler handled the trouble he faced in the frame.

“He didn’t lose his composure,” Powell said. “He came off the field and said ‘that’s my fault.’ He pitched himself out of it and the good thing was, we still had the lead.”

Chester went in order in the fourth and fifth. Powell said he felt like the Cyclones hit a bit of wall, maybe because of the early lead or maybe because of their earlier rout of the Griffins. Chester gave itself some breathing room in the sixth, though. With Wright’s pitch count climbing, Powell decided he would go with Blanchett in the seventh in relief.

“I told the guys (going to the bottom of the sixth) let’s give Luke some insurance,” Powell said.

Carter walked to start the stanza and stole second. Jake Stroud knocked him in, then scored on an error to put Chester up 5-2. Fairfield scored one unearned run with two out in the seventh, but Blanchett closed it out.

Powell had high praise for both Blanchett and Wright, but said Johnson’s two diving catches may have saved the game.

With the win, Chester finished region play 5-3. It remained a mathematical possibility that the Cyclones could still end up in second place, but Powell said the most likely scenario has his team third (and likely playing Chapman to open the AAA playoffs on Tuesday).