TONIGHT, in the final varsity baseball regular season game that will ever be played at The Sponge, Clinton High wins its first baseball region championship since 1994.
The Red Devils are pushing their way toward a potential shot at a Class AAA State Championship, which would be their first since 1961. The region championship prior to that 1994 team, that played in the Upper State Championship (losing to Newberry), was the 1974 team.
"This is a regular season game. This is our next game," CHS baseball head coach Sean McCarthy said, holding a line on the Red Devils one-game-at-a-time philosophy. Clinton beat Union County, 14-2 in 5 innings, to clinch the region championship with a 9-1 mark (17-1 overall). "We had a great game for Coach (Bill) Rhodes. This team is special. Tristan didn't have his best stuff tonight, but we got some hits on the board. We worked on that all week."
Clinton pounded the Yellow Jacket pitchers unmercifully, gaining an 9-0 lead by the bottom of the 3rd. Two missed attempts at double plays and some timely Union hitting put the Yellow Jackets on the board with 2 runs. Smaltz gutted it out on the mound and got the final outs in the mercy-rule shortened game.
"We gave them base runners on some silly mistakes," McCarthy said. "But these guys play every pitch like I do. They are into it."
Clinton goes on to play Ninety Six in non-region action Thursday night, and South Pointe in region action Friday night. Likely a No. 1 seed in Upper State AAA, the Red Devils will host opening round games in the upper state championship.
But for tonight, The Sponge undergoes something of a retirement. This was the final regular season game that will be played on Clinton High's home diamond, located behind what is now Clinton Middle School (the former Clinton High building on North Adair Street). Next spring, CHS baseball and softball will play on new diamonds under construction now at Clinton High School. The forever final varsity softball game will be played on the diamond adjacent to The Sponge on Friday - Senior Night for the Red Devil softball team.
The Red Devil baseball players' reward for winning the final Sponge regular season game - and region championship? They fixed the diamond for the next game. "Hey," McCarthy yelled after meeting privately with the team, "do some work!"