After a strong run through the postseason, the Hardaway Hawks’ playoff run came to a close Wednesday.
Hardaway (17-17) met its match in the GHSA Class 4A quarterfinals against Heritage. The host Generals grabbed Game 1 by a 5-2 score before winning Game 2 6-3 to close out the best-of-three series.
“It wasn’t our best showing,” Hardaway head coach Chris Gilstrap said. “We ran into a really good team. Unfortunately, they were really good and we weren’t at our best.”
The Hawks opened the first game of the afternoon with quite an introduction by Chris Black. After being hit by a pitch as the third batter of the game, Black stole second base. An error by the Heritage catcher opened the door for more from Black, who took third base then scored on the error to give Hardaway a 1-0 lead.
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Hardaway struggled to find much more success offensively after that point. Heritage pitcher Cole Wilcox, a Georgia commit, surrendered only three hits in his seven innings on the mound. The Hawks added an additional run in the sixth via another error by the Generals, which allowed Kevin Henry to cross the plate.
The opening loss put the pressure on the Hawks, which forced a third game in their first round matchup against Burke County after dropping the first game. Unfortunately for Hardaway, the second game against the Generals didn’t go the same way.
The Hawks fell behind early in the final contest of the doubleheader, trailing 2-0 after the opening frame of play thanks to a two-run home run by Wilcox. Hardaway cut the lead in half in the bottom of the second when Chandler Griggs brought home Henry on a sacrifice fly to center field.
Trailing 2-1, the Hawks’ best work of the series came in the third inning. Hardaway took advantage of Heritage’s miscues while also piecing together a pair of hits to score two runs and take its first lead of the game.
The one-run lead, however, only lasted so long. The Generals’ offense fired off three more runs in the top of the fifth, leaving the Hawks behind in a 5-3 game.
Hardaway failed to push another run across, while Heritage tacked on one run in the sixth for good measure. The Hawks’ season subsequently ended in the quarterfinals one season removed from missing the playoffs entirely.
The 2017 season featured a dreadful start for the Hawks followed by a flourish to close out. Hardaway began the year 1-5 before winning four consecutive games. That streak, however, was followed by another poor stretch of play that left the team at 5-11. With the subregion slipping out of reach, the Hawks responded accordingly, winning their final five games of the regular season to grab second place.
“They did a good job of learning from mistakes early in the year and making changes to certain things to make themselves better,” Gilstrap said. “It showed from the start we had to where we finished up.”
Hardaway’s first two playoff series—against Burke County and Troup County — went to three games. The Hawks showed no issue winning on the road either time, capturing the Game 3 wins on each occasion.
While history didn’t repeat itself in the Hawks’ third postseason series, Gilstrap said he told his players there was nothing to be ashamed of.
“I told them there’s only one team in our classification that’s going to end the year with a win,” Gilstrap said. “To be the last team standing in Columbus, Ga., and the local area and making it to the quarterfinals when I don’t think many people were expecting that, we have a lot to be proud about.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports