For the first time this postseason, Columbus was pushed to the brink. The Blue Devils responded like two-time defending state champions and beat Troup 7-1 on Tuesday to win Game 3 of GHSA Class AAA state semifinal series at Randy Jordan Field.
Catcher Pierce Ressmeyer hit a homer in the top of the first (Columbus was the designated visitor after losing the coin toss), and Avery Seckinger limited the Tigers to just four hits in a complete-game victory.
"The story of this game was Avery Seckinger," Columbus coach Bobby Howard said. "He did a great job for us. We left guys on and gave them some momentum. We kicked it around a little behind him, but we also made some great plays behind him."
One of those great plays actually came from one of the bench players, Jackson Wells. The junior noticed Troup's Dalton Hadley missed home plate after hitting a home run. Wells told Howard, who instructed his team to appeal. Hadley was called out, so instead of a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth, the Blue Devils led 4-1.
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"I have to give it to Jackson Wells," Howard said. "We tell our kids on the bench to be in the game, picking up signs. He made the call and I trusted him. He was right."
Columbus also turned a pair of big defensive plays to aid Seckinger. In the third, left fielder Ryan Lang threw out Cody Doughman at home plate for an inning-ending double play.
In the fifth, Jarred Adams led off with a single, stole second and went to third on a sacrifice bunt. Jonathan Foster hit a sharp ground ball to JT Phillips at third base. Adams had strayed too far down the line and Phillips caught him for an out.
Seckinger struck out three, walked one and hit one batter.
"He has pitched great this whole year," Ressmeyer, the catcher, said. "For him to go out and get this win was special. I wanted it bad for Avery. I knew he could do it and he did it.
"He was locating the fastball really well. The curve was the best he has had all year. Normally, his changeup is big for him, but he was using the curve today, really hitting his spots."
Seckinger said winning a Game 3 means a lot.
"Game 3 and all the pressure is on you," the right-hander said. "You have to come out and perform. You only get one shot."
Columbus managed just one run on four hits in the Game 2 loss to Troup on Monday night, so a three-run first in Game 3 set the tone for the game.
After Kyle Carter and JT Phillips were retired, Josh lester singled to right field. Ressmeyer hit a towering shot that cleared the wall in left center field. Anthony Padron singled and went to second on a balk by Jacob Ozley. Hunter Swilling singled to drive in Padron for a 3-0 lead.
"It was awesome. I knew after hitting that, we had it," Ressmeyer, who was 3-for-3, said of his homer.
The early lead was key for Seckinger and Howard.
" It was real big. I got comfortable out there and could concentrate," Seckinger said.
"That was huge to get off to a start like that," Howard said.
Columbus added a run in the fourth as Phillips, who was 2-for-4, doubled in Keith Sims after Troup intentionally walked Carter.
Seckinger and the Blue Devils, thanks to Wells' eagle eyes, nursed a 4-1 into the seventh. Columbus broke the game open with three runs with the big blow coming from pinch-hitter Anthony Dalponte, who drove in two runs with a double to the wall in right center. Sims knocked in the final run.
That made the bottom of the seventh a little easier despite the Tigers (24-11) loading the bases on a single, an error and a walk. Seckinger ended the game with a strikeout.
"Our kids made the plays when we had to," Howard said. "The key was (Seckinger) being consistent all the way through."
The win sends the top-ranked Blue Devils (31-4) on the road for the state championship series.
Columbus, which has won 11 state titles, all since 1984, will play at Ringgold, which routed Gainesville 11-3 Tuesday in Game 3 of that series, with a doubleheader on Saturday and the if game scheduled for Monday.
However, Columbus has graduation Saturday, so Howard said he would try to get the GHSA to move the series.
Tuesday at Randy Jordan Field
Columbus 300 100 3--7 12 3
Troup 000 100 0--1 4 1
WP--Avery Seckinger. LP--Jacob Ozley. Leading hitters--Columbus JT Phillips 2-4, 2 2B, RBI; Lester 1-4, R; Pierce Ressmeyer 3-3, HR, 2RBI; Anthony Padron 1-4, 2R; Hunter Swilling 2-4, R, RBI; Ryan Lang 1-3; Keith Sims 1-4, 2B, R, RBI; Anthony Dalponte 1-1, 2B, 2RBI; Alonzo Jones R . Troup Jacob Ozley 1-2, R; Dalton Hadley 1-3, 3B, RBI; Jarred Adams 1-3. Records: Columbus 31-4. Troup 24-11. Next: Columbus state championship series at Ringgold, Saturday-Monday. Troup season over.