Magic moment! Lexington tops Ashley Ridge for 5A baseball state championship

Brandon Cromer grew up hearing stories about his father’s state championship moment from more than 30 years ago. On Friday, Cromer made a moment of his own.

The Lexington High junior and University of South Carolina commitment worked out of two crucial situations on the mound, including one in the seventh inning, as the Wildcats held on to defeat Ashley Ridge, 3-1, and sweep the best-of-three Class 5A baseball state championship series.

The title is the sixth in school history and first since 2013.

Cromer joins his father, Brandon Sr., who won a title with the Wildcats in 1992 and went on to become a first-round draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays months later.

“He hit a home run (in the state championship) and always shows it to me,” Cromer said of his father. “It was a big moment for me knowing I could do that and follow in his footsteps. He is the guy of my dreams, and I look up to him every day.”

Brandon Cromer Sr. gave his son a hug after the game as the Lexington players left the dugout to be with their families.

Brandon Cromer (2) of Lexington pitches during the SCHSL Class 5A Baseball State Championship at Ashley Ridge High School in Summerville on Friday, May 24, 2024.
Brandon Cromer (2) of Lexington pitches during the SCHSL Class 5A Baseball State Championship at Ashley Ridge High School in Summerville on Friday, May 24, 2024.

Lexington coach Brian Hucks opted to use Cromer (8-2) out of the bullpen on Friday. Hucks said the plan was to bring him in to close it out in the seventh inning.

Cromer came in an inning earlier than planned to relieve Brayden Studebaker in the bottom of the sixth with the Wildcats up 3-1. Ashley Ridge had a runner on first with a 2-0 count to Cohen Parker. He ended up striking out Parker and getting Hunter Hunt to fly out to end the inning.

“Brandon is as tough as they come, and I knew he would make a play for us,” Hucks said.

Cromer got in trouble in the bottom of the seventh. Ashley Ridge’s Matthew Dominianni and Jack Healing started the inning with back-to-back singles. Ryan Bruno moved them up with a sacrifice bunt and Cooper Godsave walked to load the bases.

Cromer fell behind Andrew McLaughlin 3-0 before getting him to strike out for the second out. He got Jackson Christopher to fly out to Jackson Cionek in right field to end the game. The Wildcat players celebrated with a dog pile on the pitcher’s mound.

“I just gave all my worries to God and let him take over,” Cromer said. “I couldn’t be any happier.”

The championship is the fourth for Hucks, who was named the the S.C. Athletic Coaches Association Baseball Coach of the Year on Thursday. He won two titles at Brookland-Cayce and now has won a pair with the Wildcats.

Hucks admitted he doubted if he would get another one. He’s had successful teams over the past decade but never could get over the hump for various reasons.

“I started questioning myself. Am I pushing the right buttons and am I doing the right things in the offseason?” Hucks said. “But these kids made me a believer again. So, this is all credit to them. Our coaching staff is awesome, but at the end of the day these kids go out and make the difference.”

The Wildcats (31-7) finished the season hotter than any team in the state, winning 19 of their final 20 games, and were 8-0 in the playoffs. A lot of the games late in the season resembled ones like Friday night. Lexington won nine games this season by two runs or less and six of their eight playoff games by three runs or less.

Studebaker picked up the win, pitching 3.1 innings of scoreless relief. The lefty struck out two and allowed just one hit.

The Wildcats’ offense finally got going after struggling in the series opener on Thursday and through half of the second game.

Lexington trailed 1-0 going into the fifth inning Friday before scoring a pair of runs. Tradd Burton drilled a one-out double and then Lincoln Hill reached on a hit-by-pitch. Will Burgess’ hard hit was misplayed by the shortstop to score Burton and tie it at 1-1.

Cromer added a sacrifice fly that scored Hill and gave the Wildcats a 2-1 lead. Lexington added another run in the sixth on an error to make it 3-1.

Burton led the Wildcats with two hits.

The loss wrapped up the unexpected run for the Swamp Foxes (14-20), who began the postseason with nine victories and ended with their first title appearance since 2012. Dominianni led the Swamp Foxes with two hits and also had a diving catch in center field to prevent another Lexington run. McLaughlin was 1 for 3 with an RBI.