Columbus High baseball coach Bobby Howard slid his coaching jersey over his head, then wiped the sweat off his forehead and slid his blue cap back over his head.
He never threw a pitch or swung a bat in Tuesday's Georgia High School Association Class AAA state quarterfinal series sweep over Cartersville. However, his nerves never subsided until pitcher JT Phillips struck out Cartersville's Asa Williams to win Game 2 and the series.
Top-ranked Columbus made easy work of the powerful Hurricanes, routing them 14-4 in Game 1 behind an offensive explosion. Then they kept the pressure on in Game 2, sweeping the series with a 3-1 win behind a complete-game pitching gem from Phillips.
The Blue Devils (29-3) never seriously were challenged and laid a methodical beating on the Hurricanes. However, you wouldn't know that by talking to Howard.
"I'm glad this one is over," he said. "They (Cartersville) are so good and so dangerous. I can't believe this one is over."
Tuesday will be the last time these two baseball powers will meet in the playoffs -- at least for two years until the GHSA does its reclassification again in 2014. Columbus is moving up to Class AAAA while Cartersville will remain in AAA. After the way the Devils demolished Cartersville, the Hurricanes will be glad to see Columbus gone.
While the Blue Devil offense gained most of the attention, however, it was Columbus' pitching duo of Kyle Carter and Phillips that shut down Cartersville. Carter allowed just a run on two hits to earn the victory in the first game before giving way to Hunter Swilling in the fifth.
Then in Game 2, Phillips allowed just a run on three
hits. He was one pitch away from a potential shutout when Cartersville's JoJo Underwood ripped a 2-2 knuckleball over the left-field fence for a solo homer.
"I left that knuckleball up, and the guy smacked it," Phillips said. "There's really nothing I can say about that."
Phillips was the winning pitcher and also provided the winning hit in the third inning. His two-out, two-run, opposite-field homer barely cleared the right-field foul pole in the third inning. Anthony Padron added an insurance run in the fifth on Keith Sims' infield groundout.
With Phillips in command on the mound, that was all the Blue Devils needed.
"I am a little surprised we swept them," Padron said. "I knew we could if we came out and played our game the way we should play. Our talent-level on this team is through the ceiling."
In Game 1, Columbus staked itself to a 4-0 lead in the second inning on one hit, then Randy Jordan Field became a launching pad during a six-run third inning. Josh Lester and Swilling belted back-to-back solo homers to start the inning, then Phillips' three-run shot and a another solo homer by Spencer Draws helped the Blue Devils build a 10-1 advantage.
"We definitely swung the bats well," Howard said. "It's uncharacteristic, but we'll take it. Our pitchers threw lights out and pitched very well for us today."
The Blue Devils are back in the semifinals for the fourth straight season and will play host to Region 6-AAA foe Troup or Allatoona on Monday.
Tuesday at Columbus
Cartersville 001 03 --4 6 3
Columbus 226 4x --14 8 1
WP - Kyle Carter. LP - Kendall Hawkins. Leading hitters: Cartersville - Brandon Wells 1-3, 2 RBIs; Tripp Jamieson 1-3, RBI. Columbus - JT Phillips 2-3, 3-run HR, 5 RBIs; Josh Lester 1-2, HR, 2 RBIs; Spencer Draws 1-3, HR, 2 RBIs; Hunter Swilling 1-3, HR, RBI.
Columbus 002 010 0 --3 5 0
Cartersville 000 000 1 --1 3 2
WP - Phillips. LP - Tyler Will. Leading hitters: Columbus - Anthony Padron 2-3; Phillips 1-3, 2-run HR, 2 RBIs. Cartersville - JoJo Underwood 1-3, HR. Records: Columbus 29-3. Cartersville 24-7. Next Game: Troup/Allatoona winner at Columbus in Class AAA state semifinals, Monday, TBA. Cartersville's season is over.