‘He put us on his back.’ Lexington senior tosses gem in state title series opener

Jackson Burton made his final home start of his high school career a memorable one.

The Lexington senior right-hander tossed a three-hitter as the Wildcats defeated Ashley Ridge, 1-0, on Thursday in Game 1 of the best-of-three Class 5A baseball championship series.

Game two is at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Ashley Ridge. If necessary, Game 3 will be at 2 p.m. Monday at Airport High School.

Lexington is going for its first state championship since 2013.

“He put us on his back and carried us through,” Lexington coach Brian Hucks said of Burton. “Ashley Ridge competes like crazy in the batter’s box and doesn’t give you anything. He had to be perfect because McLaughlin (Ashley Ridge) was incredible tonight.”

Burton was locked in as he sat in the Lexington dugout about 90 minutes before the game, going over the game plan and scouting report of the Ashley Ridge hitters.

“Looking at the lineup, I knew they didn’t have any lefties so my slider was going to come into the play. … The slider was there all night,” Burton said. “It was really fun pitching to them. “

The start of the series was delayed almost a week after Summerville appealed the SC High School League’s ruling of a forfeiture because of a pitch-count violation against Ashley Ridge in the Lower State championship. The league’s executive committee voted 11-0 on Tuesday to uphold the forfeit from the game on May 16. Summerville didn’t make another appeal to the appellate panel.

Hucks thought the long wait hurt their timing at the plate. Lexington went eight days between playoff games.

Ashley Ridge ace Andrew McLaughlin had a lot to do with the Wildcats’ struggles at the plate.The right-hander was near perfect after a wild first inning in which he threw 30 pitches, walked four batters and gave up the game’s only run.

After the first, McLaughlin gave up just one hit and walked just batter.

Lexington capitalized on McLaughlin’s wildness in the first. With two outs, he walked three straight Wildcat batters to load the bases.

Then McLaughlin threw a wild pitch and Jackson Cionek scored to make it 1-0. McLaughlin got Ryder Kellis, the next batter, to pop out to end the inning.

Ashley Ridge’s best threat to score came in the third. With one out, Matthew Dominianni doubled to right field. The next batter, Ryan Bruno singled to right field but Cionek fired a strike to the plate and got Dominianni by a wide margin to end the threat.

“That is a college catcher and he moved to right because that is the best move for our team,” Hucks said of Cionek. “And he has taken pride in becoming a really great defensive outfielder. He made the throw and a good catch later. He is a really good kid and player.”

Ashley Ridge had a runner at third and one out in the fourth but Burton retired the next two batters.

Burton (9-2) shut down Ashley Ridge in order in the seventh and showed a lot of emotion by striking out the final batter of the game. He finished with six strikeouts and walked two batters as the Wildcats won the 18th of their last 19 games.

With no days off between games because of Ashley Ridge’s graduation on Saturday, both teams have a quick turnaround for Game 2. It will be Lexington’s first road game in the playoffs and first since April 26. It’s the first time all year they will leave the Columbia area for a road game.

“I don’t know what it is like to get on a bus,” Hucks said. “We are about to find out. … We got to go on the road in a really hostile environment. We will see if we can close it out there and celebrate tomorrow night.”

Class 5A Softball

Summerville 10, Lexington 0 (5)

The Green Wave scored in each of the first four innings to sweep the best-of-three Class 5A championship series.

It is Summerville’s second straight state championship. The Green Wave finished the season at 30-0.

Ansley Bennett and Hope Chase each hit home runs for the Green Wave. Bennett also picked up the win, allowing two hits and striking out nine in four innings. The South Carolina commit didn’t allow a run in two games during the series.

Maggie Hinz and Sam Craig had Lexington’s two hits.