The Columbus baseball team allowed three runs in the top of the seventh inning to Harris County on Thursday at home, turning an easy win into one that momentarily worried coach Chad Mathis.
The strong pitching and quality at-bats in the first six innings, however, gave the Blue Devils a comfortable enough lead that they could hang on for a 7-5 victory, avenging their own region loss so far this season.
It was the eighth straight win for Columbus after a region-opening loss at Harris County, improving their record to 11-3 overall and 8-1 in Region 1-AAAAA. The loss was Harris County’s fourth in region play, making a small gap wider and giving the Blue Devils some breathing room in the race for the region title.
“It was huge,” Mathis said after the game. “That’s a great team over there. All these teams are great. They can beat you on any given day, no matter if it’s Harris County, Hardaway, Northside, Shaw or whoever.”
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The two teams meet again for the rubber match of the season series on Friday, a win for Columbus would make it a daunting climb for Harris County in the remaining region race.
“Taking one more tomorrow would be huge,” Mathis said simply.
On Thursday, Columbus had the advantage from the outset. While pitcher Troy Gilliland’s control on his curveball wasn’t where it typically is, he compensated for it with effective fastballs and changeups. He scattered three singles over the first five innings, allowing just a single run on an infield hit, a passed ball and a pair of groundouts.
Harris County’s Casey Cobb roped a home run in the sixth inning, but that was the extent of the Tigers offense up to that point.
“You try and find it somewhere or another as you work on it,” Gilliland said of his ineffective curveball. “You just keep battling.”
It helped having a strong offensive approach, as well. Columbus scored a pair of runs in the second, one in the third, and two each in the fifth and sixth. It did it without the benefit of many extra-base hits. Only Jackson Mellenberger knocked a double to lead off the sixth. The Blue Devils hit nine singles outside of that double the rest of the game. Dylan Baker was 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs and Trey Alexander 2-for-2 with 2 RBIs.
“When the bats are working and you’re scoring runs, you can just settle in and work as a pitcher,” Gilliland said.
“We had some quality at-bats,” Mathis added. “I was really proud of the guys for having good at-bats, but it scared me in the seventh where we gave up three and all of the sudden we’re one hit away from a tie game or losing the game.”
Harris County did record five hits in the final frame, chasing Gilliland from the game and scoring three runs to cut the lead to 7-5. Relief pitcher Dawson Weaver recorded the final out on a soft liner to first base, however, and Columbus escaped with a victory.
Cobb was 2-for-3 with a home run and two RBIs for Harris County. Both Tyler Maley and Hunter Morgan also recorded a pair of hits.
The two teams will meet again on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Harris County.
Thursday at Columbus
Harris County 000 101 3--5 9 0
Columbus 011 032 x--7 10 0
WP--Troy Gilliland. LP--Drew Reeves. Leading hitters--Harris County, Kurt Ornowski 1-3, RBI, Casey Cobb 2-3, HR, 2 RBIs, R, Tyler Maley 2-4, R, Hunter Morgan 2-3, R; Columbus, Dawson Weaver 2-3, 2 Rs, Dylan Baker 2-4, 2 RBIs, R, Trey Alexander 2-2, 2 RBIs. Records--Harris County, 11-6, 5-4; Columbus, 11-3, 8-1. Next--Harris County, Friday vs. Columbus at home; Columbus, Friday at Harris County.