It has become something of a ritual for Columbus to sweep its first-round opponent in the state playoffs. The 2013 edition of the Blue Devils made sure to uphold tradition.
Columbus rolled to a two-game sweep over visiting Lanier on Friday at home in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs, advancing to the second round where it will face the winner of Redan and Heritage-Catoosa.
The Blue Devils earned an 8-0 shutout in the opener on Friday behind a stellar pitching performance from starter Hunter Swilling. The second wasn't as easy but Columbus again left little doubt, winning 10-5 after building a late eight-run lead.
“It’s really important to get things going early,” senior Luke Thompson said. “It helps everybody calm down and relax.”
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That worked in Columbus’ favor on Friday.
The Blue Devils jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the first inning when it sent eight batters to the plate and recorded five hits.
Nick Poskey and Al Jones, Jr. started the game with back-to-back infield hits before the third batter, Tony Dalponte, tripled to deep centerfield to score both runners. Swilling drove Dalponte in with a sacrifice fly and the Blue Devils brought one more across on an RBI single by Martin Wood.
“Once we got that four-spot in the first, I think everyone relaxed a bunch,” Thompson said.
They picked up one more in the third on an RBI groundout by Thompson, scoring Swilling who had singled and stolen two bases. Two more came across in the fifth and one more in the sixth.
Meanwhile, Swilling was nearly untouchable on the mound. He pitched six innings, allowing two hits and a walk and striking out four. Cason Greathouse closed the game with a scoreless seventh to preserve the shutout.
“I thought Swilling was really, really good today,” coach Bobby Howard said after the game. “He had great command. He was ahead of a lot of hitters.”
Swilling commented on the team’s offensive outburst early in the game, noting how nice it is to pitch with a comfortable lead.
“Once you have the lead, you just focus on hitting the mitt,” he said. “I was just able to locate all three pitches and play catch and pitch to contact.”
Game two was a little messier as Columbus committed two errors and allowed 11 hits and five runs. Lanier took an early 1-0 lead, which it held until Columbus scored three in the third inning on RBIs from Jones, Jr. and Thompson. Jones, Jr. scored the third run on a passed ball.
The Blue Devils offense again came to life late, though, turning a 3-2 lead into 10-2 with a run in the fifth, four in the sixth and two in the seventh.
Thompson was 2 for 4 with three RBIs in the game and 3 for 6 with four RBIs in the doubleheader. Dalponte was 3 for 7 with two triples and four RBIs in the two games, and Swilling was 3 for 6 with two RBIs to go with his pitching performance.
Robin Geven added a long home run in the seventh inning for Columbus.
Despite the strong performance from his team, Howard cautioned that this is still new territory for his players. Despite winning three straight state championships, the vast majority of starters on this team did not start a year ago.
“It’s still difficult,” Howard said. “(The pitchers) have never really been tested in the playoffs.”
He said that despite scoring 18 runs in the two games, there were still plenty of missed opportunities at the plate.
“We still didn’t have great situational at-bats,” Howard said. “We popped up or struck out in a few situations where we needed to hit a ground ball to move the runner over.
“We just need to keep emphasizing it and keep working on it.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.
Friday at Columbus
Lanier 000 000 0—0 2 0
Columbus 401 021 x—8 8 0
WP—Swilling. LP—Doster. Leading hitters—Columbus, Dalponte 1 for 3, 3B, 2 RBIs, Swilling 1 for 2, 2B, 2 RBIs, Wood 2 for 2, 2 RBIs.
Columbus 003 014 2—10 12 2
Lanier 101 000 3—5 11 1
WP—Bice. LP—Ramsey. Leading hitters—Columbus, Dalponte 2 for 4, 3B, 2 RBIs, Thompson 2 for 4, 3 RBIs, Geven 3 for 4, 2B, HR, 2 RBIs, 3 Rs; Lanier, Ramsey 3 for 4, 2 RBIs, Richardson 2 for 4, HR, RBI. Records—Columbus, 20-9; Lanier, 18-10. Next—Redan/Heritage-Catoosa at Columbus on Wednesday.