HAMILTON, Ga. — It was a story of good news and bad news for the Harris County baseball team on Wednesday in the Class AAAAA second round against Starr’s Mill.
Bad news first: The Tigers coughed up a two-run lead with two outs in the final inning of Game 2, allowing a run on an error and a walk-off two-RBI single to give Starr’s Mill an improbable 9-8 victory.
The good news: They had already taken Game 1 of the series, 5-1, and ensured that, at the very least, they’d be playing a decisive third game in the series.
That game will indeed take place at 5 p.m. Thursday to decide the series. A coin flip determined that the Panthers would play as the home team in the game.
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“It’s a tough way to lose,” Harris County coach Steve Westmoreland said with a resigned grin. “But, we didn’t pitch well enough to win. We gave them too many freebies — walks, hit batters, errors. You can’t win like that in the playoffs against good teams. Luckily, we won Game 1 and we’ve got a chance to come back here tomorrow.”
In the other dugout, Starr’s Mill coach Brent Moseley spoke as a man who had been given new life.
“I think that’s what we call ‘surviving,’” he said with a laugh.
In the truest sense of the word.
Harris County appeared to take control of a back-and-forth affair in the top of the seventh inning, breaking a 6-6 tie with an RBI single by Tyler Maley. Hughes Massengale, who reached first on a dropped third strike, scored on the hit and then Dillon Rodgers came around to touch the plate on an error on the play. The Tigers took an 8-6 lead into the bottom half, three outs away from advancing to the state quarterfinals.
Instead, Starr’s Mill put runners at second and third with one out after a soft popup by Kyle Moseley found a patch of green inside the foul line in right field for a double. After the Tigers recorded the second out, an error on a pickoff attempt brought one run across, and back-to-back walks loaded the bases with two outs.
Enter, Patrick Mullins, Starr’s Mill’s leadoff hitter who had struck out four times in seven plate at-bats on the day.
“He hadn’t done much, but we always have a lot of faith in Patrick,” Moseley said.
Mullins roped a single to left field, bringing home the tying and winning runs for the Panthers.
“They’re a good team,” Westmoreland said. “You put yourself in that many tough spots, and it’ll come back to bite you sooner or later.”
The loss was compounded by the fact that the Tigers had pretty good success offensively throughout the day, despite the fact they had faced two pitchers verbally committed to the University of Georgia, Ryan Avidano and Adam Goodman.
A.J. Willoughby, who was the hard-luck loser on the mound in Game 2, was 6-for-6 with five RBIs, a double and a home run on the day. Hughes Massengale was 4-for-8 with a double and an RBI.
Casey Cobb hit a solo home run in Game 2 and was the winner in Game 1, pitching a complete game and allowing just one run on four hits.
Westmoreland said that, while it was a tough way to lose Game 2, the outlook wasn’t all grim.
“We hit the ball pretty well against two great pitchers,” he said. “Now they’ve used their Nos. 1 and 2 guys. I don’t know what they’ve got beyond that, but we’ve got a couple guys we feel pretty good about.
“So, we just live to play another day.”
Wednesday at Harris County
Starr’s Mill 000 000 1—1 4 1
Harris County 001 013 x—5 9 3
WP—Casey Cobb. LP—Ryan Avidano. Leading hitters—Starr’s Mill, Patrick Mullins 1-4, RBI; Harris County, Hughes Massengale 2-4, 2 Rs, Neil Jimmerson 2-3, 3B, RBI, A.J. Willoughby 3-3, 2B, 3 RBIs.
Harris County 011 310 2—8 11 2
Starr’s Mill 050 010 3—9 6 4
WP—Adam Goodman. LP—A.J. Willoughby. Leading hitters—Harris County, Hughes Massengale 2-4, 2B, RBI, A.J. Willoughby 3-3, HR, 2 RBIs, Tyler Maley 1-2, 2 RBIs, Casey Cobb 2-3, HR, RBI; Starr’s Mill, Patrick Mullins 1-4, 2 RBIs, Eric Sutliff 1-4, 3B, RBI, Adam Goodman 2-3, Seth White 1-4, 2B, RBI. Records—Harris County, 22-8, Starr’s Mill, 22-9. Next—Harris County vs. Starr’s Mill, 5 p.m. Thursday at Harris County.