LEBANON, Tenn. — Vytas Valincius may not have been around for the Baylor School baseball class of 2021's first two state championships, but the 6-foot-4, 235-pound senior sure left his mark helping the Red Raiders capture a third straight TSSAA Division II-AA title.
Batting cleanup, Valincius launched a three-run homer in a five-run third inning that sent them well on their way to an 8-1 victory against Briarcrest Christian in Thursday's championship game.
After seeing two straight sliders, Valincius looked for an inside fastball and did not miss. The South Carolina signee sent the ball over the light tower in left field at Wilson Central High School, bringing the crowd to its feet to watch as the ball traveled an estimated 430 feet — at least.
After the game, two young Baylor fans delivered the home run ball to his mother, who shared a long embrace with Valincius after he helped the country's ninth-ranked prep baseball team finish on top in Tennessee again. Valincius transferred to Baylor for the 2019-20 school year, and while the coronavirus pandemic wiped out high school baseball season in Tennessee last spring, nothing stopped the Red Raiders this time around as they compiled a 27-4 record and won the fifth state title in program history.
"This has been an awesome experience playing for Baylor and with all of my friends here," said Valincius, who hit .400 with eight of Baylor's 42 home runs this season. "We worked day after day for this and wanted to win state bad. We are going to celebrate now, and then when it comes to a decision on going pro or playing college ball, we will make the best decision for us, our families and Baylor.
"We want to keep our legacy going and make this school and our families proud."
His blast came right after one of the country's top hitters, senior Cooper Kinney, laced a two-run ground-rule double down the line in right field for a 4-0 lead. It was Kinney's 30th extra-base hit of a season in which he batted .571 with nine home runs and 42 RBIs over his final 17 games.
Valincius scored Baylor's first run of the game in the second inning, when John Emendorfer's grounder to second was mishandled and alert baserunning by Wake Forest signee Nick Kurtz allowed him to score from second on the play for a 2-0 lead.
Baylor pitcher Luke Courdin finished his senior season 7-0, working the first four innings Thursday before junior Jon Larrea struck out five batters in three scoreless innings to seal it — another good pitching performance at state for the Red Raiders.
Senior ace Jay Dill notched a season-high 15 strikeouts while facing one batter above the minimum in Tuesday's shutout of Brentwood Academy, while junior Patrick Johnson threw a 79-pitch complete game to beat McCallie on Wednesday. Neither pitcher allowed a walk. Dill finished the season with a 0.85 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings, and Johnson led the team with eight wins and had a 1.24 ERA in 45 1/3 innings.
"When you look back on our past two trips to (state), our pitching has been just as dominant as our hitting, if not more," coach Mike Kinney said. "These kids get on the mound, throw strikes, are competitive and just know how to play the game. What these four pitchers did for us out here was remarkable, and we can't be more prouder and happier for them and all of our guys."
Said Dill, a Missouri signee: "We went out here and did what we dreamed of doing. We are getting to go out on a high note, and that means everything to our senior class. We worked especially hard for this season, and everyone stepped up. There is no reason why this team can't come back and win two or three more state titles, too. I believe in them."
Baylor junior second baseman Henry Godbout was exceptional in the leadoff spot during the state tournament with a pair of three-hit games. He will be a key returner next season, along with Johnson and several others.
As for the seniors, coach Greg Elie only expects them to add to an impressive legacy.
"These boys have already achieved so much, but they are going on to do even greater things in life," Elie said. "They are going to play college and pro ball. Once they go to the next level and do their thing, we will get to sit back and reflect and realize just how talented this team was. People will talk about them for a long time."