Dixie County coach Shannon Smith knew that if his team worked hard, stayed healthy and got some breaks, his Bears had the potential to be right where they wound up on Friday night – Class 1A Region 4 Finals champions.
The Bears used a dominating performance on the mound from senior pitcher Carson St. Laurent and combined it with 10 hits on offense from seven different batters to shut down the visiting Indians, 9-1, in Cross City.
“I knew with what we had coming back—because we had no seniors last year—we could be special, but a lot of stuff has to come together,” Smith said. “You have to remain injury free, you have to have guys get key hits, everyone has to buy into the grind. I mean we’re practicing as hard today as we were on Jan. 4, that has not changed.”
After a 6-8 start to the season, Dixie County (13-9) has won six of its last seven games coming into Friday’s contest with its only loss coming in a 7-6 district title loss to Newberry.
“It really came together about three weeks ago when I really saw it all jell and the coaches started talking and we said ‘OK, we have a shot,’” Smith said. “And things have to line up for you, you have to get some breaks. But I knew coming into the season, it could happen.”
On Friday, everything came together. Following a scoreless opening inning, the Bears erupted for four runs in the bottom of the second starting with Connor Bechtold’s one-run double, a Luke NesSmith one-run single and Kolton Hunt nailing a shot up the middle for a two-run double.
The runs continued into the third inning when Dyllan Corbin laid down a bunt that drove in one run and—with runners on second and third—an errant Chiefland pickoff throw to third base sent two more Dixie County players across the plate for a 7-0 lead.
The Bears added to the score in the fourth inning when Kade McCaskill bunted down the left field line sending St. Laurent home, and again in the sixth inning when St. Laurent nailed a one-run triple to right field for a 9-0 lead.
Chiefland added its lone score when Seth Campbell hit a single to left field and Braden Smith crossed the plate with two outs in the top of the seventh inning.
Chiefland (11-12), who advanced to the game by knocking off defending 1A state champion Newberry on the road on Tuesday, had trouble on offense, both stranding runners on base or making base-running mistakes.
“We don’t cash in enough when we have guys in scoring position,” Chiefland coach Chad Brock said. “We left guys stranded and our base running has not been very good. We’ve run ourselves out of inning after inning. I count it up to just being young.”
Brock also credited St. Laurent for his performance.
“I give credit to Carson too, he’s a heck of a pitcher,” he said. “Four years ago when he was a freshman, I knew he was special then and he’s just turned into a well-polished pitcher and he did a great job.”
St. Laurent pitched 6.2 innings striking out six batters while allowing one run on five hits and two walks.
“Carson has been a workhorse and he’s a warrior,” Smith said. “When you tell him he’s going to pitch, he locks in and he’s very tough to beat because he’s got such a strong mentality. He had his fastball going, had his curveball going, I think we were able to keep them off balance tonight because they were both dropping in for strikes.”
For the game, St. Laurent also hit 2-for-3 with an RBI and one run, McCaskill went 3-for-4 with two runs, an RBI and one steal, and Hunt added two RBI.
Smith said he’s been told this is the furthest Dixie has ever advanced in its baseball postseason history.
“[Dixie] made the finals three years ago and got beat by Chiefland, but I think this is the furthest they’ve ever gone in baseball,” he said. “It’s pretty special for the community, we have great community support. I’m happy for everyone here in Cross City and Dixie that we have an opportunity to bring a lot of joy to the area through this.”
As for Chiefland, Brock is encouraged by what his team accomplished this season and the group he has returning next season.
“That’s what I told the guys yesterday that if we win, we’ll be super excited and, if we lose, we’ll be super excited about what we accomplished,” he said. “We’ve got a young group and I felt like a lot of people counted us out earlier in the year. We were playing pretty bad, but we answered when we had to and did the things we needed to do to win some games.”
Brock said he will only lose three starting seniors off this year’s roster.
“I have high hopes for next year,” he said. “ We return a lot of guys. We started three seniors, so we’ll definitely miss those guys and the other two that were seniors. We’ll miss all five of them, but the core of what’s coming back, if our pitching continues to develop, I believe we could be right back in this spot next year.”
Next Wednesday, Dixie County will play Fort White, who beat Lafayette (Mayo) on the road, 3-2, in the 1A-Region 3 Final on Friday.
Friday, May 13
Class 1A Region 3 Finals
No. 4 Fort White 3, No. 3 Lafayette (Mayo) 2
Class 1A Region 4 Finals
No. 3 Dixie County (Cross City) 9, No. 4 Chiefland 1
Saturday, May 14
Class 4A Region 1 Semifinals
No. 4 Clay (Green Cove Springs) at No. 1 Suwannee (Live Oak), 7 p.m.