Entering its daunting final week of the regular season, Hardaway baseball coach Chris Gilstrap said he had a simple goal:
Win one of the four games. More would be great. But at the very least, the Hawks needed to win one of their games against either LaGrange on Tuesday, Columbus on Wednesday and Thursday or Harris County on Friday.
After a loss to the Grangers to open the week, Hardaway picked up that coveted victory, a 7-2 triumph at the Blue Devils on Wednesday, clinching a berth in the Class AAAAA playoffs.
"You have no idea (how much better I feel)," Gilstrap said with a laugh after the game, barely able to contain his energy. "We were focused on winning one of these games this week to get in. We knew we had our guy going today, so getting it out of the way really kind of takes the pressure off the rest of the week."
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Hardaway moved into third place in the region with the win, 2½ behind Columbus and two games behind Harris County. Columbus and Harris County are tied in the loss column with four, but Harris County owns the tiebreaker over Columbus so the Tigers can win the region title with wins over LaGrange on Thursday and Hardaway on Friday.
The Hawks are out of the race for a region championship but could conceivably finish as high as second place if they won their final two games and Harris County lost to LaGrange on Thursday.
Gilstrap said his team
isn't thinking as much about that right now. They're just happy to have a playoff spot sewn up.
Hardaway put its ace pitcher on the mound for the occasion on Wednesday, knowing that if he failed to lead it to victory, it could be in a tough position to close out the week.
But Tre'Von Dorsey gave the Hawks a complete-game effort, allowing just two runs, only one of which were earned. He was moderately wild, walking five batters and throwing 108 pitches over seven innings, but he struck out six and only once found himself in a precarious position.
After Hardaway had scored a run in the first and two in the second to take a 3-0 lead, Columbus began to chip away in the fifth.
Blake Hicks walked to lead off the inning for Columbus, and Dylan Baker reached on a fielder's choice. Baker hit a grounder to shortstop, and a throw was made to third base to try and get Wendell Barfield, who was in as a pinch-runner. Barfield was safe, however, and scored when Baker deliberately got into a run-down between first and second. Jeffrey Oravic and Cason Greathouse both walked, with a flyout by Russell Forthofer sandwiched in between. Gage Dempsey then knocked an infield single that drove in the second run of the inning.
With runners on first and third, though, Dorsey induced a flyout to end the inning, and the Hawks responded with four runs in the top of the sixth to regain complete control of the game. Dorsey helped his own cause with a two-run single in the sixth, giving him three RBIs on the day.
Gilstrap said it was important for Hardaway to win on Wednesday in part because it was the last day Dorsey would be able to pitch.
"I didn't want to go into Friday with this still hanging over my head," he said.
Now the Hawks, despite an up-and-down second half to the season, are in a position where anything can happen.
"Once you get to playoff time, that's all it is," Gilstrap said. "You never know what can happen in a three-game series."
Wednesday at Columbus
Hardaway 120 004 0--7 6 3
Columbus 000 020 0--2 6 3
WP--Tre'Von Dorsey. LP--Troy Gilliland. Leading hitters--Hardaway, Sam Anthony 1-2, RBI, 2 Rs, Dorsey 1-3, 2B, 3 RBIs, Marcus Small 2-3, 2 Rs, Chris Black 2-2, RBI, R; Columbus, Gage Dempsey 1-4, RBI, Blake Hicks 1-2, 2B. Records--Hardaway, 16-8, 10-6; Columbus, 16-6, 13-4. Next--The two teams play at Hardaway on Thursday.