Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local Sports

May 15, 2014

Raiders win dramatic opening series, head to Loganville for second round of state playoffs

AMERICUS — Southland Academy’s baseball team hosted the first round of the GISA State Playoffs for the first time in more than five years, and the match-up with the Bulloch Gators did not disappoint the large home crowd. After winning the opening game on a walk-off score on a wild pitch, Southland dropped an unbelievable extra inning thriller in game two before hammering the Gators in game three to advance to the second round for the second consecutive season.

The opening game took place on Friday afternoon, and after a slow start in the first inning Southland’s starting pitcher Geoffrey McDonald buckled down to dominate the rest of the contest.

In the top of the first, Hobby Mills and Joshua Bishop collected back-to-back singles, and a walk to Davis Childs loaded the bags with two outs. Lee Waters then brought in the game’s first run with an RBI single, but McDonald buckled down to strike out Brian Harrison and escape the jam with minimal damage.

From that point on, McDonald was lights-out for the Raiders. In the top of the second and third innings, the junior struck out the side in each fame to run his consecutive strikeout streak to seven in a row since the end of the first inning.

In the bottom of the third, Southland’s offense finally put their first run of the game on the scoreboard. With one out, Cason Fort and Brandon Looney collected back-to-back singles before Reed Dillard walked to load the bases. Southland clean-up batter Allen Gleeson then took a pitch off the shoulder blade for an RBI to bring Fort home.

McDonald and Bishop continued their pitching duel on the mound over the next four innings, but with the game still tied at 1-1 the Raiders got things started once again in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Southland speedster Jon Adkins led off the inning with an infield single, and he moved up to second base on a sac bunt by Fort. Adkins then advanced to third base on a passed ball, and with Dillard at the plate he scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch.

“Game one was a great, well-pitched game on both sides,” Southland head coach John Brady said. “Geoffrey was dominant. He had one shaky inning (the first) and after that pretty much cruised. We finally got a lead off guy on in the seventh, executed the sacrifice, and caught a break by being able to score the walk-off run on a wild pitch.”

Adkins’ slide into home put the Raiders on top in the best-of-three series, but the best was yet to come.

At the beginning of game two on Saturday, it looked like the teams were playing the same game. Southland did not score in the top of the first inning, and after earning two walks and a single in the bottom of the frame the Gators had a major threat in the making. Once again though, Southland’s starting pitcher found his groove, and after striking out Bulloch’s four, five and six hitters, Dillard kept the game scoreless.

Dillard also got his team’s offense going in the top of the third inning with an RBI single to score Looney, who led off the inning with a single. Senior Ford Roach also added an RBI single in the inning to score Dillard, and the Raiders took a mid-game 2-0 lead.

Bulloch’s first run came in the bottom of the fourth inning when Waters scored on an error. The Gators then tied the game up in the bottom of the seventh to set up another dramatic finish in Americus.

Neither team was able to push across a run in the eighth inning, and it appeared that the Raiders put the finishing touches on the game in the top of the ninth. A double by Hunter Weldon scored Ryan Weaver and pinch runner Trevor Law, and Roach brought Weldon home with a double to right field. The fourth run of the inning scored after a double by McDonald allowed Roach’s pinch runner Brian Miller to score to make the lead 6-2.

Although it looked like the game was over, the Gators weren’t going down without a fight. With a walk and four singles, Bulloch completed a miraculous comeback to tie the game at 6-6. Bishop capped off the thrilling win with a double, scoring Smith Reeves to give the Gators an unbelievable 7-6 win and stun the Raiders.

“The second game was another brilliantly-pitched game,” Brady said. “Reed went eight and 1/3 innings and only allowed one earned run. I thought we were safe after scoring four in the top of the ninth to take a 6-2 lead, but we made a couple of mistakes in the bottom half and allowed them to win it. The way that game ended was a stomach punch to say the least. One of the toughest losses of my career, but as we preach to the guys all the time, you can't worry about what is in the past.”

With the Gators taking the second contest, it was anyone’s game in the third and deciding battle. Southland made sure that there was no doubt who would be moving on to the second round, and after scoring nine runs in the second inning, they ended the decisive contest early with a 13-2 mercy rule-shortened game.

The scoring started in the bottom of the first after a Weaver connected on a one-out double to left field to set the table. Gleeson brought Weaver in with a single to left, and the Raiders claimed a 1-0.

Bulloch tied the game in the top of the second with an RBI single by Will Marsh, but their hopes of winning were quickly dashed in the bottom of the inning. Bishop got the first out by striking out McDonald, but the inning would quickly turn around with one out.

On a 3-2 count, Adkins drew a walk to give the Raiders their first runner of the inning. Fort then singled to the pitcher, and Looney doubled to left field to bring in Adkins and Fort.

Bulloch got another out on a fielder’s choice, but the always-dangerous Weldon responded with a massive home run to center to score himself, Dillard and Gleeson. Roach then scored on a passed ball, and Looney walked to bring in McDonald and make the score 9-1. The final Raider run of the inning crossed the plate as Adkins scored on a passed ball again to extend the margin to 10-1.

The Raiders were back at it in the bottom of the fourth inning. Once again, Adkins led off the inning with a single and scored on a passed ball to make the score 11-1. Dillard then drove in Looney to make the score 12-1, and Weldon smoked an RBI single into center to score Dillard and extend the lead to 13-1. Although Bulloch scored one in the top of the fifth, it was not enough for them to avoid the ten-run mercy rule, and the game ended with a final score of 13-2.

Weldon and Looney were the big hitters in the game for the Raiders with two hits apiece. Weldon also drove in four runs, and Looney brought home two more. Weaver had a double, and Adkins, McDonald, Gleeson, Dillard, and Fort each collected a hit.

Looney was also a bulldog on the mound in the crucial game three for the Raiders. He threw all five innings and struck out two while allowing just one earned run on four hits to earn the win.

“In game two, Brandon fouled a ball off of his knee so we were unsure as to whether he could pitch or not,” Brady explained. “Fortunately, he was able to go out there and gut it out and give us a great outing on a bum leg. He really toughed it out. We jumped out to a big lead in the second inning and that was that.”

Brady said that hosting a playoff round was a great experience for his team, and he was thankful for the great showing by the home crowd.

“We were all really excited about playing a playoff series at home after all these years and it was great to have such a big and energetic crowd this weekend. Our players and coaches really appreciate the support.”

Southland will be on the road on Friday, May 16 for the second round of the playoffs to take on a familiar opponent. Loganville Christian, who Southland defeated in the opening round of the playoffs last season, will welcome the Raiders back to town for a rematch in the second round. Loganville claimed number one seed after winning the Region 1 Championship, and they knocked off Mount de Sales in the opening round to set up this rematch. The winner of the Southland/Loganville series will advance to the Final Four to take on the winner of the Tattnall Square/Deerfield series on May 23-24.

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