MOULTRIE - Even though the Packers came off a sub-par regular season, everybody’s on the same footing when the baseball playoffs begin. Somebody has to beat you two times, even if it takes three games to do it.
Colquitt County High, a 9-17 team at the start of the week but a second-place team in its region, hosted Lassiter High, another team below .500 and a third-place finisher from a region usually putting somebody in the Class 7A finals. The series on Ike Aultman Field at Jerry Croft Stadium went the full three games, and on Thursday it was the visiting Trojans from Marietta running away with it 13-2 in seven innings.
To take the series and advance to the Sweet 16, Lassiter had two pitchers shut down Colquitt County, not with overpowering stuff but with the kind of spot-hitting and defensive reliance that was a big part of the Packer region success to go 7-5. Ryan Getz threw a Game 1 shutout 4-0 Wednesday, and on Thursday it was left-hander Camden Eck putting up zeros through six innings and watching his team score the first 13 runs.
Packer coach Tony Kirkland had a little bit of everything from every grade on his roster, and on the mound Thursday he went with freshman Pershaun Fann. Fann had already made Lassiter think about him as a hitter in the doubleheader, and he was challenged to get out of situations in by far his biggest starting assignment of 2019. Hitting the strike zone, he fanned two Lassiter hitters in the first inning following Sam Marques’ lead-off single.
Two other Trojans reached base in the top of the second, one being Kyle Lavender on a single. Again, Fann hit an inside spot for called strike three while fellow shortstop Cannon Whatley fired a ‘bang-bang’ throw to first for the third out.
Packer hitters, however, were not getting anything past the infield facing Eck. The only hit through the first six innings was of the infield variety by senior Tucker Hathcock. He was erased on an inning-ending double play, the second of two pulled off by the Lassiter infield. Only three batters struck out against Eck through six innings, and he worked around three walks.
The scoreless deadlock only lasted three innings, for in the fourth the Trojans scored five times. Mason Kearney led off with a base hit, and Lavender put down a bunt. The Trojans were successful putting down bunts in the Game 1 win, and they got one to work for them Friday when Lavender was legally able to avoid a tag going to first base. With one out, Lassiter called for one of the three double steals they executed.
Adam Love brought home the first run on a fly-ball out. Fann, though throwing a wild pitch, got to home plate for catcher Callon Kubiak’s throw. The Trojan runner did beat the play safely for 2-0, and when the visiting team filled the bags there was a change on the mound to senior Turner Sircy.
Lassiter scored one more on a wild pitch, then Carson Strovinskas banged a two-run single for the 5-0 edge.
It was slow torture for the Packers as Lassiter padded that lead with three runs in the sixth on three hits and one error. Walks led to five runs in the top of the seventh.
Trace Eakins, winner of five region games for Kirkland during his senior season, provided one final quality start wearing No. 18. He threw shutout baseball for four innings, working out of situations along the way, until the Trojans scored two times in the top of the fifth and two more in the sixth.
Eakins may be best remembered for leaving the bases loaded in his first inning at home against Camden County when the Wildcats occupied all bases with no outs. There were two outs in the top of the second Wednesday when Eck singled to right and Bradley Frye’s jam shot also went to right field. Love drew a four-pitch walk, but nobody scored when Eakins got Marques swinging.
Griffin Bennink and Kearney were on base with third-inning hits, but Whatley snagged Lavender’s liner for a double play.
The story was much the same, however, for the Colquitt offense as Getz retired five of the first six he faced. The only one he didn’t get there was Fann, who singled with two outs in the second. After that, Getz set down seven in a row with just three strikeouts through four innings
When Lassiter struck in the top of the fifth, there was one out when Bennink dropped a flare single in the shallow outfield. Strovinskas walked and Kearney was hit by a pitch to fill the bags. The Trojans produced two runs from this chance on Lavender’s first-pitch hit and JD Rinehimer’s sacrifice fly.
Fann hit is second straight single in the home fifth, but Getz struck out two more. Henry Daniels and Chance Sealy hit singles, the last for Colquitt in the opener, in the sixth.
The Packers have reduced the errors significantly since February, but the top of the sixth began with a throwing miscue. The Trojans then laid down two bunts, both batters reaching to load the bases with no outs. Whatley certainly robbed one Trojan of a hit with his glove, but not an RBI. With another scoring fly ball, the Trojans had the 4-0 final.
How much more did the Colquitt production pick up in the nightcap Wednesday. Try 14 hits to score six runs. Jeb Johnson went the distance on the mound scattering five hits to win 6-2 and force the Thursday decider. Johnson struck out three and walked four.
Lassiter touched Johnson for single runs in the first two turns, then it was all Packers. The lead flipped in the third inning (top half) with three runs. It started with Hathcock’s extra-base hit and followed by consecutive one-out singles by JT Whatley and Daniels. With three straight two-out hits by Sealy, Alex Bledsoe and Callon Kubiak, Colquitt had the lead.
Though his team left the bases loaded in that third, it didn’t deter Johnson’s work. He kept four runners who reached base from scoring over the fourth and fifth frames. Jacob Walden’s base hit off the pitcher’s glove scored one for the Packers in the fifth, and the sixth seemed like it would not end for the Trojans. The Packers scored two times without a hit.