A magical season came to an abrupt end for the Hardaway baseball team on Thursday as it dropped a decisive third game to Evans in the second round of the GHSA Class AAAAA state playoffs.
After falling behind by four runs, the Hawks came back to tie the score in the sixth inning, but lost 7-6 when the Knights' Colin Dominy slapped an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh.
The loss ended a season in which Hardaway won 25 games and its first region championship since 2005. This season's win total was a 16-game improvement over 2012.
"These guys have nothing to be ashamed of," coach Chris Gilstrap said after the game. "They have every reason to hold their heads up high."
Hardaway surrendered six runs in the third inning to turn an early lead into a substantial deficit. Evans broke through with five hits in the inning and, at the time, appeared poised to run away with the game.
As quickly as the momentum had shifted in the Knights' direction, however, the Hawks grabbed some of it right back.
With two outs and a runner on in the fourth inning, Hardaway started chipping away. Josh Anthony was hit by a pitch and Sheridan Coy, the starting pitcher, walked to load the bases. A wild pitch brought one run home, and then Blake Meadows brought the other two in with a single to cut the Evans lead to 6-5.
A strikeout ended the inning, but Hardaway added the tying run in the sixth on a fielder's choice. Bynam hit a soft ground ball to Evans pitcher Tyler Roberts, who tried to come home with the throw. The throw was wide of the catcher, but would not have gotten the runner anyway.
But the Hawks were unable to do any more damage,
leaving the bases loaded and setting the stage for Evans' last-inning heroics.
"They were maybe one pitch or a base hit away," Gilstrap said. "I just hurt for them."
Despite picking up the loss on the mound, pitcher Bryan Pate pitched four strong innings to keep his team in the game. He allowed just three hits and one earned run.
At the plate, Meadows was 1 for 1 with 2 RBIs and three walks for Hardaway. Will Griggs added two hits and an RBI to the cause.
Overall, though, the Hawks left 11 runners on base, missing a handful of opportunities to take command of the game. Gilstrap tipped his cap to the Knights, saying it was hard to do that against a good team.
"They're a good team, a quality program," he said. "They've got a lot of tradition. They don't beat themselves."
Despite the loss, Gilstrap said this season had been an incredible move in the right direction for his program.
"We proved a lot of doubters wrong," he said. "It was a step in the right direction. Many, many steps in the right direction."
Evans was led by Dominy, who had two hits and three RBIs. Roberts pitched three innings in relief of starter David Rivera, allowing just one run and picking up the victory.
With its win, Evans advanced to the quarterfinals, where it will face the winner of Pope and Winder-Barrow.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571. Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports
Thursday at Hardaway
Hardaway 020 301 0--6 7 1
Evans 006 000 1--7 8 2
WP--Roberts. LP--Pate. Leading hitters--Hardaway, Meadows 1-1, 2RBI, Griggs 2-4, RBI; Evans, Dominy 2-3, 3RBI. Records--Hardaway, 25-7; Evans, 20-7. Next--Hardaway, season over; Evans, vs. Pope/Winder-Barrow on Tuesday