For seven innings, the Columbus baseball team had its mind on the game at hand. Hardaway was still playing for seeding and was getting an impressive pitching performance from freshman Mykel Page.
As the Blue Devils came off the field after hanging on for a 2-0 win over the Hawks, however, they started asking questions.
What was the score of the LaGrange-Harris County game? What inning? And the answers were all good for Columbus.
Harris County fell to LaGrange 7-1, handing the Blue Devils the Region 1-AAAAA championship and the top seed in the playoffs that goes with it. For a team that failed to win its region a season ago and had a coaching change for the first time in 31 years earlier this season, it was a welcome result.
“These guys have worked their tails off,” coach Chad Mathis said. “It means a lot. I’ve been pretty stressed out about it. I felt like I had a lot to prove this year. It’ll give these guys a lot of confidence going into the playoffs.”
Thursday’s win was Columbus 14th in the past 17 games. It finished 14-4 in the region and is 17-6 overall. It has one more regular-season game, a postseason tuneup against Parkview on Friday, before getting started in the Class AAAAA playoffs next week.
On Thursday, Columbus showed plenty of reason for there to be high hopes entering the postseason. For one, the pitching was superb once again.
Cason Greathouse, who has turned into a bona fide ace on the hill for Columbus this year, turned in a complete-game shutout. While he did allow Hardaway to scatter nine hits over seven innings, he walked just one batter and threw just 74 pitches. He induced plenty of lazy pop outs and routine ground balls that his defense easily handled.
“I was just working my pitches and getting ahead,” Greathouse said. “I just let my defense work. They did a great job. I got a couple of strikeouts late, and that really helped us get out of some trouble too.”
Hardaway had runners on first and second in the first, fourth, fifth and sixth innings, but was never able to get a run across against Greathouse.
“We had some great defense and some solid pitching,” Mathis said. “That’ll win you a lot of ballgames.”
Mathis was quick to point out, however, that the Blue Devils’ struggles at the plate on Thursday would be enough to do them in come the playoffs.
They had seven hits, but scored just two runs, one in the fourth and one in the sixth. A couple base-running gaffes potentially cost them some insurance. After scoring a run in the sixth to go ahead 2-0, Gage Dempsey a single, advancing Trey Alexander to third. Dempsey ran through first base toward second, hoping to draw a play and allow Alexander to trot home. Instead, he was thrown out and Alexander stranded at third two batters later.
“We’re winning,” Mathis said. “We’re doing things right, but we’re still making some mistakes. I’d like to be able to go back to practice and correct some things. The way we’ve been playing games (everyday), it’s been difficult.”
Alexander finished the day 1-for-2, driving in both of Columbus’ runs. His other RBI came on a sacrifice fly in the fourth, bringing in Dylan Baker, who had led off the inning with a triple.
Still, regardless of any mistakes on Thursday, Mathis said he was proud of his team’s ability to tune out the changes that were taking place early in the season and put together a successful campaign in a difficult region.
“This region speaks for itself,” Mathis said. “It’s hard to win here.”
And Greathouse hopes it’s just the beginning.
“Winning region’s good,” he said. “But I really want to win state. We’ve got bigger goals ahead of us.”
Thursday at Hardaway
Columbus 000 101 0—2 7 0
Hardaway 000 000 0—0 9 1
WP—Cason Greathouse. LP—Mykel Page. Leading hitters—Columbus, Russell Forthofer 1-2, 2B, R, Dylan Baker 1-3, 3B, R, Trey Alexander 1-2, 2 RBIs; Hardaway, Sam Anthony 3-4, Blake Rupp 2-3. Records—Columbus, 17-6, 14-4; Hardaway, 16-9, 10-7. Next—Columbus, Friday at Parkview; Hardaway, Friday at Harris County.