Hardaway baseball coach Chris Gilstrap said he thought he had the best No. 3 starting pitcher in the state, and in a three-game series that can make all the difference.
Bryan Pate outdueled Effingham County’s Will Rogers on Saturday in the rubber match of the Class AAAAA first-round series, and Hardaway scored a 4-2 victory to advance to the second round. It is the Hawks’ second consecutive trip to the second round, though they hope for a better result than last year’s loss to Evans.
“A lot of people doubted us,” Pate said. “They didn’t think we could win, so it feels good to get back to the second round. Hopefully, we can keep playing well.”
Pate pitched a complete game for the Hawks, allowing just two runs on four hits and striking out five.
He was in only one jam, allowing three hits and a run in the sixth inning. The Rebels had runners at first and second, down two runs with one out. Pate induced a fly out to center field and a ground out to second base to end the threat.
In the seventh, he set Effingham County down in order.
“He competed,” Gilstrap said of Pate. “He got out there and gave us a chance. Anytime you go three games and you have a guy like him, you have a chance. I told them yesterday that we had probably the best Game 3 starter in the state. That’s got to make you feel good.”
Likewise, it probably made Pate feel good to get offensive support early in the contest.
The Hawks got three consecutive hits to start the game. Trent Abrams led off the first with a single, followed by another single by Tre’Von Dorsey and a two-RBI double by Josh Anthony.
They got another run across in the inning when Anthony broke for the plate as Rogers delivered his pitch. Blake Rupp squared and laid down a perfect bunt to complete a successful suicide squeeze, giving Hardaway an early 3-0 advantage.
“Being that we were the away team playing at home, we had to get the momentum early,” Anthony said. “It helped a lot and settled our nerves.”
Hardaway had a similar 3-0 advantage in Game 1 but suffered a late collapse as Effingham County picked up a 6-4 victory.
Gilstrap said that wasn’t on his mind when the Hawks went up 3-0 again on Saturday. Instead, he was thinking more along the lines of Game 2, which his team won 13-1.
“I was hoping more for a Game 2 type of offensive explosion,” he said with a laugh. “That didn’t happen and we didn’t score as much, but the big first inning took some pressure off.”
Now that task shifts to Whitewater, where the Hawks will play next week. Gilstrap said he knows they will be facing a talented team but expects his players to be up to the task.
“We’re just putting one foot in front of the other,” he said. “It won’t be easy. It’s a tall task, but we seem to play well on the road.”
Saturday at Hardaway
Hardaway 300 010 0—4 5 2
Effingham 001 001 0—2 4 1
WP—Bryan Pate. LP—Will Rogers. Leading hitters—Hardaway, Josh Anthony 2-4, 2B, R, 2 RBIs, Blake Rupp 1-1 2 RBIs. Records—Hardaway, 19-9. Next—Hardaway, Friday at Whitewater in second round of state playoffs.