COLUMBIA, MS (WDAM) - They gathered in a clustered circle for the final time early Saturday afternoon corner, a group of young men in pin-striped uniforms streaked with dirt and grass, faces bright with sweat, and for more than a few, with tears.
It was an annual rite being played out near the left-field corner, the long goodbye for the high school athlete who has performed for the last time in his school's colors.
Columbia High School (18-9) saw its baseball season come to an end in the second round of the Class 3A South State playoffs as St. Andrew's Episcopal High School brought the best-of-three series to an end with an 8-2 victory over the Wildcats at John Sapen Jr. Field.
"We wouldn't be where we are without our seniors," Columbia coach Greg Owen said after bidding farewell to the group lingering in the outfield. "They were great leaders, on and off the field. I can't say enough about those guys. Without them, we're not half as good as we were.
"But we've got several juniors who will be seniors and will contribute next year and a strong sophomore class and the young guys that we have coming up. We feel really good about our future and it's bright."
Coupled with a 2-1 victory by the Saints in the series opener Friday night in Ridgeland, St. Andrew's (27-5) will move on to meet the winner of the West Marion-Franklin County series.
"We pitched well in the series, and that was the number one thing, and we played good defense," Saints coach Mark Fanning said. "Offensively, while we didn't cash in on all our opportunities, we did have several opportunities (Saturday).
"(Friday) night, neither team had hardly any opportunities."
Friday, both teams finished with four hits as runs were scarce.
Saturday, St. Andrew's scored in five of the seven innings, including a two-run fourth inning and three-run fifth that blew the game open.
The Wildcats trailed just 1-0 after three innings after St. Andrew's scored a run in the second on a walk to C.J. Carron, a double by Holland Townes and a wild pitch.
But the Saints touched up Columbia starter Harrison Miller (2-2) for a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning. The first run scored on a double by Sam Roffwarg and the second when Avery Thomas was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
St. Andrew's doubled its lead in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Evan Bowman and a two-run single by Cameron Daniels.
Columbia got a run back in the fifth when Javen Moses reached on an error moved to third on consecutive singles by Landon Sanders and Aiden Singley and scored on wild pitch.
The rally, as with a similar play in the third, was doused by a soft liner to shortstop that caught a runner at second base in no man's land. Both innings, Saints shortstop David DuCote was able to double up the runner at second, getting two outs on one play.
"Those were killers," Owen said.
Banks Tolley added a solo home run in the sixth inning to give St. Andrew's a 7-1 lead and DuCote came around to score in the seventh after he walked, stole second, went to third on a single by Dickson Ray and scored when the ball was bobbled in the outfield.
Townes (8-1) allowed two runs on six hits over 6 1/3 innings, walking three and striking out five. Roffwarg pitched the final 2/3, allowing Trey Hobgood's RBI-double in his final at-bat as Wildcat with two outs in the seventh.
"I thought they did a good job by eliminating the walks, eliminating bases for us," Owen said. "That made us have to hit our way through, one through nine. I thought we competed, but one of the problems was we kept getting runners on with two outs, never early in the inning."
Columbia finished with seven hits, including a double and two singles by Singley and doubles by Hobgood and Reagan Davis. Sanders' single accounted for the other hit.
Eight of the nine starters for the Saints got a hit, Roffwarg finishing with a double and single. Tolley had a home run, Carron and Townes a double apiece, while Bowman, DuCote, Ray and Daniels had a single each.