As Hilton Head Prep baseball prepared for a postseason run, Carolina Panthers legend Luke Kuechly preached the importance of giving it all on every single pitch. On Monday in Sea Pines with their season on the line, the Dolphins kept pounding and pulled off a magical extra-inning comeback victory.
Steele Burd was the hero with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth, and Hilton Head Prep rallied past Laurence Manning 7-6 to advance to the SCISA 3A Lower Bracket championship, setting up a rematch with Cardinal Newman on Tuesday.
The Dolphins took the upper hand early, as Reese Malon lined a single to center field to grab the 1-0 lead. Luke Foley kept the offense rolling in the third, smoking a pitch to left and scoring Jaiden Hrobar before the senior touched home on Malon’s second RBI single of the contest to make it a 3-0 game.
The biggest play of the early innings may have been a defensive gem, as left fielder Payce Gartner ran down a hard-struck fly ball in the fourth to stymie a Laurence Manning rally. But the Swampcats answered in the fifth, evaporating the lead with a trio of runs to knot the playoff contest at 3.
Then Malon came through again in the home half, picking up his third RBI of the game on a rip to right field. McDonnell doubled the Dolphin lead on the ensuing at-bat, sneaking a ball past the left side of the infield to grab a 5-3 advantage.
The visitors were able to chip away in the sixth with a clutch two-out hit from TJ Hicks, cutting the lead to a single run. Buddy Gales worked around a Tommy Stauffer single to hold the HHP advantage at one going into the seventh and final inning of regulation. The ensuing frame started in disastrous fashion for the home team, as an infield error allowed the leadoff hitter to reach and brought the tying run to second before Austin Geddings sent home pinch-runner Brandt Reynolds to knot the game at 5.
Despite the unfortunate beginning, Malon kept battling on the mound to keep it tied going into the bottom half. The relief pitcher kept his outstanding day at the plate going with a walk, but the Dolphins couldn’t push a runner past first, sending the elimination game to extra innings.
Both Malon and Gales kept their stellar outings going in the eighth. Gartner reached scoring position with a single and stolen base with two outs, but a ground ball to shortstop Jackson Brown brought the heart-pounding contest to the ninth. Mickey Jordan got the Swampcats started with a double to left, and Geddings connected on a clutch two-out single to grab his team’s first lead at 6-5.
But just like Kuechly, the Dolphins never quit on their mission. In the bottom of the ninth with a 23-1 season on the line, Foley and his team found a way.
Jaiden Hrobar set the tone from the start, drawing a masterful seven-pitch walk to put the leadoff man on. Then the senior captain delivered. In the biggest moment of his career, Foley launched a rocket just inches away from the fence to reach second base and put the winning run in scoring position.
The Swampcats walked Malon intentionally, loading up the bases with nobody out. An infield popout kept the tying run at third and brought up Steele Burd with the season in the balance. On a 1-1 count, Burd eyed his pitch and smashed the Cam Branham offering into left field. Hrobar easily scored from third, and Foley followed right behind, crossing the plate to finish off an unforgettable 7-6 comeback victory.
Malon was sensational on both sides, going 3-for-3 and driving in a trio of pivotal runs while earning the win on the mound with three strong innings. Stauffer shined from the leadoff spot, going 2-for-4 at the plate and scoring two runs. Foley added a pair of hits, and Burd’s sole knock was the biggest of them all, driving in the tying and winning tallies. Starter Harrison Green set the tone with four tremendous innings, allowing just two hits to go with three strikeouts.
HHP (24-1) returns to Cardinal Newman on Tuesday, hoping to pick up the first of two straight wins to clinch a berth in the state championship series. If the Dolphins can survive for one more day, they’ll host the deciding game against the Cardinals on Thursday with a spot in the championship series on the line.
“This means the world to me and the other seniors because we get to continue playing baseball,” Foley said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game, but we kept our heads up and played hard all the way until the end.”
By Wes Kerr