Sixth-ranked Pierce County had its streak of 10 straight opening round series sweeps come to an end as third-ranked Westminister eliminated the Bears Friday afternoon in Atlanta.
PCHS (20-8), which extended its streak of 20-plus win seasons to five in the last game before the playoffs, fell 7-6 in Game 1 and 6-0 in Game 2 to the Region 4 runner-up Wildcats. The series opening loss ended a 20-game winning streak in first round matchups dating back to 2007.
“I am proud of the boys and their effort this year,” said head coach Greg Gay. “We had one senior, one junior, and the rest freshman and sophomores in the line-up against an experienced ball club. When you get into the playoffs, especially playing private schools, the experience factor a lot of times is what puts you over the edge.
“We (coaches) knew this was going to be a year where we were going to experience a lot of mistakes. We have been saying it all year, developing young players is a process that takes time. Overall, we have to be pleased with where most of the players are in this process. This is going to be a team our community can be proud to support.”
PCHS will lose just two players from the squad in seniors Logan Paul and Luke Revels.
“We are going to miss Logan and Luke,” stated Gay. “They are young men that have meant a lot to our program.”
Only fourth-ranked Appling County, the Region 1 champion, was able to advance. The Pirates swept fourth-seed North Clayton winning 4-3 and 15-0. Region runner-up Southeast Bulloch was hammered by fifth-ranked Decatur losing 12-5 and 14-1. Brantley County was swept by two-time defending champion and top-ranked Blessed Trinity falling 8-1 and 6-0.
First Round - Game 1: No. 3 Westminister 7 - No. 6 Bears 6
The Wildcats held off the seventh-inning comeback attempt of PCHS to escape with the series opening win.
Trailing 7-4, the Bears’ first five batters reached and two scored cutting the deficit to one run. Westminister’s Rankin Woley, who walked two of the first three batters he faced on 10 pitches, regrouped to strikeout the next three hitters to pick up the save.
Ben Tuten (1-for-4) led off the seventh with an infield hit against Charlie Bennett, who came on to start the inning in relief of starter Kenneth Hatzfield. Klay Allen (2-for-4) followed with a single to right ending Bennett’s afternoon.
Walker Sinclair (2-for-3) hit Woley’s first offering to second, which was booted to load the bases. Cody Williams and Paul (1-for-3) drew consecutive five-pitch walks forcing home Tuten and Allen as PCHS pulled to within 7-6.
Woley bounced back getting a swinging strikeout and back-to-back looking strikeouts to end the game.
““We should have won the series opener,” said Gay. “We hit the ball well enough to win, but we had to overcome too many mistakes defensively and off the mound.”
Pierce grabbed an early 1-0 first inning lead. Stetson Bennett (1-for-4) led off the game with a single to center. He moved up on a passed ball and continued on to third on a slow-arriving throw to second by the Westminister catcher. Allen singled to center two pitches later for a 1-0 lead. Following a single by Sinclair, an inning-ending double play squelched the threat.
The Wildcats got the run back in the bottom of the inning against Williams (5.1 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 K, 4 BB, 1 WP). A leadoff walk came home to roost on a one-out sacrifice fly.
“Cody’s effort was awesome,” Gay said, “but, it was just wasn’t his day. He has been lights out lately for us and just didn’t have his stuff. However, the cool thing about Cody is the fact he didn’t make excuses and competed the whole game.”
Westminister grabbed its first lead of the game at 2-1 in the bottom of the third on a two-out, infield single.
PCHS responded with two runs in the top of the fourth to take a 3-2 lead. Sinclair led off the frame with a single to right and was lifted for pinch-runner Kris Wishall. Williams reached when he was hit by a pitch.
Following a double steal, Paul lined a single to right scoring Wishall to tie the game at 2-apiece. After Derrin Cox (2-for-3) was hit by a pitch putting runners on the corners, Johnny Waters hit into a fielder’s choice plating Williams with the go-ahead run.
Westminister took the lead for good in the fifth with a three-run rally against Williams. A two-out, bases clearing double was the big blow giving the Wildcats a 5-3 advantage. The hit followed an intentional walk and a five-pitch walk that extended the inning.
The Bears sliced the deficit in half in the top of the sixth. Cox laced a one-out double and eventually scored on a two-out, two-base error as PCHS pulled to within 5-4.
Westminister tacked on two runs in the bottom half of the inning on a pair of run-scoring singles.
Game 2: No. 3 Westminister 6 - No. 6 Bears 0
Westminister rode the four-hit pitching performance of Blake Huber to complete the sweep.
A two-run first inning against Allen (6 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 5 K, 5 BB) was all Huber needed. He retired 15 straight Bears after surrending a leadoff single to Bennett (2-for-3).
Blake Bishop’s (1-for-2) single to start the sixth ended the streak of consecutive batters retired. Bennett picked up his second hit of the game one out later. Waters’ (1-for-2) leadoff single in the seventh was the only other hit by the Bears.
Westminister hit three consecutive one-out doubles in the first inning in taking the lead. The Wildcats added a run in the fourth, courtesy of a two-out error, to extend the lead to 3-0.
Five consecutive Westminister batters reached in the seventh with three hits and two walks helping produce the final three runs of the game.