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High School Sports

Fort Mill hired a baseball coach connected to its last state title. It’s paying off

 

Isaac Beirne found three quarters in the outfield before his pitching outing for the Fort Mill baseball team against Clover Wednesday night.

He forgot about the 75 cents in his back pocket for the duration of the eight scoreless innings he pitched, only remembering the coins when they jangled in his hand before a postgame interview with a reporter. Were they lucky coins?

“No I just found them,” Beirne shrugged.

Beirne did not need luck Wednesday. The senior righthander shut down Clover, allowing just a couple of hits and striking out nine as the Yellow Jackets improved to 17-1 and clinched the Region 3-5A championship.

Fort Mill finished second in the region each of the last two seasons under coach Travis Collier, but there was elation when they made the breakthrough with Wednesday’s 2-0 win over the Blue Eagles.

“Very proud of these guys,” said Collier. “It hit home. We felt like we were good enough the last two seasons but Northwestern was the king. It feels great to be on top right now, and I know this group has a lot more in them.”

Collier played rightfield for Fort Mill’s last baseball state title team, back in 2002. He was hired as the school’s head coach before the 2017 season and has led the Yellow Jackets to at least 20 wins each of the previous seasons.

Ranked No. 2 in the state, Fort Mill is deep and talented. Collier has confidence in seven different pitchers, which will be crucial in the state playoffs. The Yellow Jackets have 12 juniors, and their No. 4 hitter, shortstop Conor Rasmussen, is just a freshman. Beirne is one of six seniors, at least three of which will play in college.

Against Clover, the Yellow Jackets loaded the bases in the top of the seventh but couldn’t squeeze the all-important run across and the game went to an extra eighth inning.

Intentional and unintentional walks put Fort Mill runners on second and third and junior outfielder Mikey Tepper, a Charlotte commitment and one of the team’s best players, hit a grounder into the gap between second and first. Clover’s second baseman did well to run the ball down at the fringe of the outfield but Tepper busted a lung down the baseline and was safe, scoring a run.

“Just goosebumps,” Tepper said. “Whatever gets the job done.”

The Yellow Jackets added one more run on a wild pitch, then Beirne closed out the bottom half of the inning for the win.

“My arm was feeling great, didn’t get tired,” Beirne said.

Fort Mill won its fourth game in a row scoring three runs or less. Collier’s team has had several games when it scored 14 or more. The Yellow Jackets can win in different types of game because of one factor: “Our hitting can be off and on,” said Beirne, “but our defense is always consistent.”

Tepper, Beirne, Collier, senior J.T. Marr, they all mentioned the team’s chemistry as a defining trait. That’s not surprising considering one of Collier’s priorities as a coach is forging strong relationships with his players. He works at Fort Mill alongside two of his former coaches, Greg Pendarvis and Darren Wilson, men that had lifelong impacts on him.

Collier is working to make those same connections with his players. He wants to make sure when his players leave Fort Mill that they want to come back and see their former coaches, that they have good memories of their experience.

“We don’t have to just talk about baseball, we can talk about life too,” Collier said. “The big thing for me is how close this group is. They do a great job of working hard together.”

The Yellow Jackets are talented, deep and they love each other. They’re not dependent on lucky quarters from leftfield. The region title was only the first accomplishment on the 2019 team’s list, which includes much bigger goals.

“It’s definitely one down,” said Marr. “We’ve just got to keep working when no one’s watching.”

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