It was a dismal feeling for the Yellow Jacket faithful Wednesday night in Cochran as Jeff Davis High’s baseball team trailed 12-7 after 4 1/2 innings of play against Bleckley County.
At stake was a trip to the 2019 State Baseball Finals the following Monday in Macon.
But there was still a glimmer of hope. The Royals, quite simply, had run out of pitching while the Jackets still had strong, fresh arms ready to hold Bleckley’s scoring at bay.
The Jackets were in a predicament of their own making. A horrific, 5-error third inning had allowed the homestanding Royals to score eight unearned runs to propel them from a 7-3 deficit to an 11-7 lead. A run in the top of the fifth pushed that lead to 12-7.
JD cut the lead to 12-9 in the bottom of the fifth inning to set the stage for a wild, 4-run rally in the bottom of the sixth to propel the Jackets to a 13-12 victory and a berth in the state finals for the second time in three years.
The bottom of the sixth began with back-to-back singles by Garrett Taylor and Cade Walters.
That brought Royals Coach Brad Davis out of the dugout to grab at the last straw he had available: put senior hurler Tripp Purser on the mound despite his having pitched seven innings the day before. It turned out to be a bad move, but it was the only move he had left.
The first batter Purser faced was Britt Metts who he walked on five pitches to load the bases. Garrison Miles then singled to center to score Taylor, making it 12-10. Colby Marchant then lofted a high fly to center field that was deep enough to score Walters from third and advance Metts to third and Miles to second.
Then, on a 3-2 count, Jashaun Kirby was hit by a pitch to load the bases again with the score 12-11 and one out. Designated hitter Hamp Hayes then drilled a hard grounder to third which the third baseman mishandled, sending Metts across the plate to tie the score 12-12 and leave the bases loaded.
Center fielder Caleb Leggett then delivered the dagger thrust into the Royals’ hearts. A long fly ball to right was deep enough to push Miles in from third to give JD a 13-12 lead.
Reliever Britt Metts walked the first batter he faced in the seventh, struck out the next two and then gave up a single to put two on with two outs. The next batter dribbled a grounder to first which Bubby Chaney fielded and stepped on first to end the game.
The Jackets had 14 hits. Metts had two solo homers and added a single for two RBI. Miles had three singles and an RBI, Leggett homered and singled and drove in three runs, Marchant had a pair of singles and two RBI, Hayes had a single and three RBI, Taylor singled twice and had an RBI, and Walters singled.
Metts was the winning pitcher in relief. He went two innings, blanking the Royals on two hits, walking one and striking out two. Matthew White started on the mound and went three innings. Only three of the 11 runs he gave up were earned. He yielded three hits, walked two and struck out none. Baucom relieved White for two innings. He gave up one run on one hit, walked two and struck out two.
The Yellow Jackets had been in a hitting slump for weeks, and that slump continued in the first game when they got only two hits. But in the second and third games, JD got 12 and 14 hits as their bats came alive.
The first game in the 3-game series was a pitchers’ duel as Leggett and Purser controlled the game from start to finish, with Bleckley winning 1-0. Leggett hurled a 3-hitter while the Jackets managed only two hits off Purser. Leggett pitched well enough to win as he walked no one and struck out six.
The bottom of the fifth was the decider. Leggett started the inning by striking out the first two batters, but then he hit the next batter and balked him to second. He could have gotten out of the inning when the next batter hit a grounder, but an error put runners at first and third. Then a wild pitch allowed the runner to score from third. And that was all the scoring for the game.
The Jackets had a chance to tie it in the seventh as Hamp Hayes singled and went to second on a Leggett sacrifice bunt. But the next two batters struck out to end the game.
Hayes and Marchant both had singles for the only Jacket hits.
The Jackets struck early in the second game with a 4-run first inning. Miles and Marchant had back-to-back, one-out singles to get things started. With two outs, Hayes singled to left to score courtesy runner Kaden Lewis and send courtesy runner Ethan Hulett to second. Leggett then walked to load the bases. Chaney followed with another walk to push in a run to make it 2-0. Taylor then grounded to second and was safe on an error as Hayes and Leggett scored, making it 4-0.
The Royals fought back with two runs in the second, as they got a double and three singles off starting pitcher Miles. But from there on out, Miles dominated the game, retiring the next 13 batters he faced before giving up a harmless single in the top of the seventh. He ended the game putting down 16 of the last 17 batters he faced.
In the Jackets’ sixth, JD added four insurance runs. Metts started the inning with a solo shot over the left field fence to make it 5-2. An out later, Marchant walked, Kirby singled and Hayes doubled to score courtesy runner Hulett and push Kirby to third. Leggett then hit a sacrifice fly to center to plate Kirby and make it 7-2. Then Chaney singled to right to score Hayes from second to up the score to 8-2.
Hayes had a double, two singles, and two RBI to pace the offense. Metts had a homer, a double and an RBI, Marchant singled twice, Chaney singled and had two RBI, Leggett doubled and had an RBI, and Miles, Kirby and Walters had singles.
Miles went the distance on the mound, giving up two runs on six hits, walking none and striking out six.
Score by innings:
JDHS 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0
BCHS 0 0 0 0 1 0 x -1
BCHS 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 -2
JDHS 4 0 0 0 0 4 x -8
BCHS 3 0 8 0 1 0 0 -12
JDHS 3 4 0 0 2 4 x -13