HAMILTON, Ga. — When the Harris County baseball team thinks about this season, the players will see a success: A Region 1-AAAAA championship, 22 wins and a berth in the second round of the state playoffs.
In the short term, though, when they think about this series, they’ll feel the sting of missed opportunities and defeat.
After coming within an out of sweeping the series in Game 2 on Wednesday, the Tigers fell 10-2 to Starr’s Mill in the rubber match on Thursday, ending the season short of their final goal.
“It’s very disappointing. Very disappointing,” coach Steve Westmoreland said. “There will be a lot of what-ifs. We had a great opportunity last night and let them off the hook, and anytime you come play a Game 3, you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
What happened was that the Starr’s Mill bats, which were relatively inconsistent on Wednesday, came to life in a big way down the stretch in the finale.
The Panthers got four straight hits to open the game, including an RBI double by Eric Sutliff and an RBI single by Adam Goodman. Kyle Moseley added a third run on a groundout, and it was 3-0 at the end of the opening frame.
Harris County chipped away at the lead for a couple innings, but Starr’s Mill pitcher J.D. Masters limited the damage to just a single run in the second and third innings. The Panthers added a run in the fifth, two in the sixth on a pair of solo home runs by Goodman and Seth White, and then put the nail in the coffin with four in the sixth to erase any thoughts of a comeback.
“We just ran out of strikes,” Westmoreland said. “We didn’t have enough on the mound. Not for lack of effort, we just didn’t execute well enough.”
Masters was, well, masterful.
The sophomore played the majority of the season on junior varsity and was making only his second varsity start on the mound. His first ended in a three-hit shutout of East Coweta. He was equally impressive on Thursday.
He allowed a run on an RBI groundout by Kurt Ornowski in the second and another on a solo home run by Hughes Massengale in the third. Beyond that, he was dominant.
He pitched a complete game six-hitter, allowing just one earned run and striking out five. He did not walk anybody.
“I think it calmed him down to get some runs early,” Starr’s Mill coach Brent Moseley said. “We talked about, how long do I let them get one run, one run, one run before I have to make a change. We kept warming someone up because we wanted to maybe give them a different look instead of let them chip away and all of the sudden they’re up 5-3. Fortunately, he shut them down when he had to.”
While the loss weighed visibly on Westmoreland’s mind immediately following the game, he tried to give perspective on the season as a whole.
“What’s important for the kids to understand is a lot was accomplished this year,” he said. “We won a region championship and 22 games, and that’s most of our goals. It just ended a little shorter than we wanted to.”
After meeting with the entire team, he pulled his seniors aside to give them one last talk, as well.
“I just told them how proud we are of what they helped us accomplish,” he said. “We came a long way with that group over the five years I’ve been here. We won two region championships, and that gives us something to set our sights for.”
Thursday at Harris County
Harris County 011 000 0—2 6 0
Starr’s Mill 300 124 x—10 13 2
WP—Masters. LP—Hunter Morgan. Leading hitters—Harris County, Hughes Massengale 1-3, HR, RBI, A.J. Willoughby 2-4, Kurt Ornowski 1-3, RBI; Starr’s Mill, Patrick Mullins 3-3, RBI, Eric Sutliff 1-3, 2B, RBI, Adam Goodman 2-3, HR, 3 RBIs, Seth White 2-4, 3B, HR, 2 RBIs. Records—Harris County, 22-9; Starr’s Mill, 23-9. Next—Harris County, season over; Starr’s Mill, vs. Gainesville in Class AAAAA quarterfinals.