HAMILTON, Ga. -- Jeremy Sanders didn't seem worried that East Paulding had just scored two runs, had runners on first and second base and the go-ahead run stepping into the batters box.
With two outs, Sanders worked his magic. The senior right-hander, with an awkward and unorthodox sidearm delivery, promptly induced East Paulding's McKay Petitta to ground out to third baseman Hayden Tuggle. Sanders then retired the side in the seventh, earning his second save in as many days and sending the home-standing Tigers to a 7-5 victory Thursday.
Combined with Wednesday's 10-5 win, Harris County swept the second-round series in the Georgia High School Association Class AAAA baseball playoffs, sending the Tigers to a date at Johns Creek in the state quarterfinals. The north Fulton County school, in just its third season of existence, swept Houston County in their series.
"I was going in hoping to get the job done," Sanders said. "Just throw strikes and stay ahead in the counts. I'm happy that happened."
Sanders helped preserve a victory for starter Cole Johnson, who was masterful after surrendering a three-run homer to East Paulding's Mitchell Webb in the first inning. Until the sixth, when Johnson was lifted for Sanders, he seemed to get stronger as the game progressed.
After allowing a single in the third, Johnson retired eight straight before allowing his next hit. In 5 2/3 innings, he allowed five runs on five hits. The only earned runs he gave up came in the first inning.
"These guys have worked so hard," Harris coach Steve Westmoreland said. "You want to see good things happen to them. We've come a long way in the last three years, and I'm happy for these guys."
The Tigers took a 1-0 lead
on Andrew Fears' RBI groundout before East Paulding took its first lead of the series on Webb's three-run homer.
But Harris (24-5) jumped right back ahead in the second without the benefit of a hit. A walk and three errors allowed the Tigers to regain the lead at 4-3. The Raiders finished with an uncharacteristic seven errors.
"Most know that it takes all three phases of the game -- pitching, offense and defense," Westmoreland said. "If you're not good in all three of those phases, especially defensively, it can make it very difficult to win games. We were able to take advantage of their mistakes today."
The Tigers padded their lead in the fifth, scoring two runs on an RBI triple from Kevin Shavers and an RBI single from Walker Borneman. They added an insurance run in the sixth to take a 7-3 lead, then put the game in the hands of their pitching staff.
Sanders finished off the Raiders by getting a lazy grounder to second baseman Justin Strickland, who scooped the ball and tossed to Justin Milner for the final out.
"I knew we were surely getting out (of the game) with Strickland at second," Sanders said.
And on to the state quarterfinals.
Thursday at Harris County
Harris Co. 130 021 0 --7 6 1
E. Paulding 300 002 0 --5 5 7
WP - Cole Johnson. LP - Mitchell Webb. Leading hitters: Harris County - Justin Strickland 2-4; Kevin Shavers 1-3, 3B, RBI; Andrew Fears 1-3, RBI; Walker Borneman 1-3, RBI; Cody Sheedy 1-4, 3B. East Paulding - Glen Finks 2-3; Webb 1-3, HR, 3 RBIs; Kyler Neal 1-3, 2 RBIs. Records: Harris County 24-5, East Paulding 19-12. Next Game: Harris County at Johns Creek, Class AAAA quarterfinals, TBA. East Paulding's season is over.