MOULTRIE – It's what high school baseball coaches fear when faced with a third and deciding game of a state playoff series. A six-run inning. A seven-run inning. That would suggest the available pitching would be put to the test.
When it came down to who would deliver in the late-game situations, Etowah High shortstop and leadoff batter Jackson Sisk doubled in the one go-ahead run the Eagles plated in the fourth inning. Later, in the sixth, Sisk singled home a bit of insurance in another single-run frame.
Etowah, from Woodstock, will continue their quest to repeat as state baseball champions as a No. 4 region seed. The Eagles used the most arms on the mound in a game where both it and Colquitt County High shared explosive offensive turns, but they survived all the chaos to win 11-9 on Ike Aultman Field at Jerry Croft Stadium.
The fifth Etowah pitcher, Bryant Madden, ended up not only lasting the longest, but he was the only hurler not touched for any offensive damage. In three full innings, he struck out five, but he also walked the potential tying and go-ahead runs for the Packers in the top of the seventh. Madden escaped the bases-loaded jam with two called strike 3s and a very close ground out recorded against Packer senior Raines Plant.
The two teams split a doubleheader on Thursday in Moultrie. Things moved along relatively briskly in both ends, but the audience was in for a three-hour ride on Friday. A big lead by the Eagles was gone in a flash, so were two of their coaches in the middle of the fourth inning. These coaches will not be able to participate in Etowah's quarterfinal series doubleheader next week at Parkview High.
The Eagles took the option of being the home team on the scoreboard via a coin toss. The game represented the return of Colquitt senior Ethan Phillips to the mound after a month off due to injury. The outing, though, only lasted seven batters and one strikeout. The other six reached base, then Turner Sircy took over with Colquitt trailing 3-0.
Etowah ended up batting around in the bottom of the first. Dustin Frost walked and Will Hockman put down the squeeze bunt for RBI, and Sisk batted for the second time, and singled a second time.
Ethan Underwood, however, did not benefit from a 6-0 advantage. With two outs and nobody on base in the top of the second, Tony Kirkland's group staged a little batting practice. In all, 13 hitters went to the plate to score seven runs.
The first to reach via the safety was JC Harden. Catcher Mack Crosby, for the first time in his varsity career, sent a baseball over the fence. Colquitt was down 6-2 and not satisfied with the old chipping away here and there philosophy.
Designated hitter J.T. Whatley singled. Alex Bledsoe singled. With both in scoring position and the lineup turned over, Gavin Patel singled for the second time Friday. At 6-4 Eagles, the Packers were not done chipping. Patel was on second when Dylan Dalton singled. The Colquitt hitters kept finding their way to scoring position – Dalton moving over on a wild pitch – and Plant's base hit to right tied the game 6-6.
These were clean hits, and next Parker Moore tried desperately to get the third out. But he walked Tanner Wilson, and Tucker Hathcock's single up the middle put the hosts in front 7-6.
It took a third pitcher, Weston Campbell, to end the inning with the bases full of Packers. But the 7-6 score was the only time Colquitt led.
Etowah still had its chance to hit in the second, and with three hits were able to level things at 7-all. Madden, who homered in Thursday's play, did a first-pitch single to set up Jacob LaFevers' RBI hit. This turn also ended with runners on all bags.
Madden, in the bottom of the third, made Sircy pay for two two-out walks. He doubled both in for 9-7 Eagles. Wilson made a running catch in centerfield to end the inning, but he was next involved in a nasty collision at first base that eventually took him out of the contest.
It was when Colquitt put together yet another tying rally, and this time they set things up from the start. With Dalton's walk and Plant's single, Wilson put down a bunt. In getting retired, he and second baseman Hockman crashed into each other.
The Packers were granted Dalton's scoring on the play, and Hathcock followed with the tying RBI hit, his second in a row.
Justin Dowdy, the fourth Eagle pitcher, induced a double-play grounder with the bases full. But resulting from what was described as words between players afterwards, the two Eagle coaches were tossed in a long confrontation with the umpires.
Both Hockman and Wilson stayed in the game, and Hockman reached base in the bottom of the fourth with two outs. Sisk doubled down the third-base line making it 10-9.
Madden pitched a scoreless fifth that featured his pickoff of Dalton. He gave up Hathcock's third hit in the sixth, but no runs.
Jared Horne pitched the only time Etowah didn't score (the fifth) and got help from an assist by Hathcock in right field to Plant at third. Kirkland substituted Wilson out midway through the sixth, and the coach also used Game 1 starter Cory Newsome. Sisk got his second straight RBI hit before the Packer infield turned a double play.
Newsome was able to pitch Friday because the GHSA pitch-count rules for a best-of-3 playoff series state all pitchers can throw up to 120 in any series when games are played in consecutive days.
Crosby, Whatley and Patel all reached base on Madden in the seventh. With them not scoring, Colquitt left 10 on base for the game.