State championships are nothing new at Augusta Christian Schools.
The school already has secured two this school year with football and girls track titles as a member of the South Carolina Independent Schools Association.
Even the baseball team has hit pay dirt with last season's state championship run.
On the diamond, this year hasn't been quite as easy. The team started the season by losing its top pitcher when sophomore Nolan Belcher transferred to Greenbrier High School. Then the injury bug hit.
"We've still got bumps and bruises," Augusta Christian coach Craig Johnson said. "That's been with us almost all year."
Outfielder Lee Banks has nursed a hamstring injury all season long, while No. 2 pitcher Josh Whitaker has battled a sore arm.
Eventually, the problems caught up with the team. The Lions hit a three-game losing streak.
"We struggled after spring break," Augusta Christian senior Ben Kilpatrick said. "Things weren't going right. There were some conflicting attitudes on the team ... A lot of work and prayers from our teammates and family helped us out tremendously."
Finally, the team took one last blow: a state tournament seeding that ranked eight teams ahead of Augusta Christian. A year after playing as a No. 1 seed in the state tournament, the Lions were forced to play through the state playoffs on the road.
"It was discouraging because we had beat those teams higher than us," Kilpatrick said.
The Lions responded with six straight state tournament wins including series sweeps at fourth-seeded Robert E. Lee and top-seeded Northwood. Augusta Christian's most recent win, a 6-0 shutout over second-seeded Hammond, completed the third sweep of the state tournament for the Lions and punched their ticket to the state championship series.
"We're back where we want to be," Johnson said.
In fact, the Lions are back at the exact spot they were last season: facing Wilson Hall for the SCISA AAA state title.
"That's who we played last year. To get the opportunity to play them again is special," senior Wayne House said.
House was the hero last season with a game-winning RBI hit in the final state title game.
This year, House made the difference in the state semifinals Wednesday with his fifth win of the season in five innings of work on the mound.
Junior Josh Whitaker provided all the offense Augusta Christian needed with a three-run home run in the sixth inning. The hit cleared the elevated left field fence and was Whitaker's 10th of the season. The junior also has a team-leading 45 RBIthis year despite dealing with a biceps injury.
"This also worked out well for us because Josh didn't have to pitch this series," Johnson said.
"To not use him this series was big. He'll have plenty of rest by the time we play next week," he said.
The SCISA AAA state championship's best-of-three games series will begin Monday at Wilson Hall. The second game will be played Tuesday at Augusta Christian and, if necessary, a third game will be played at a neutral site Thursday.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Augusta Christian Schools' Dillon Quick dives safely back to second base as the Hammond School pitcher fires the ball to Walker Inubinit during the SCISA state semifinal game in Martinez.
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