April 24, 2014

Pierce delivers on mound as Bruins win Region 7-4A baseball title

CEDARTOWN — Winning the first game of the best-of-three Region 7-4A baseball championship series with Cedartown was vitally important to Northwest Whitfield High School.

So Seth Pierce took the mound in relief with the task of protecting the slimmest of leads.

He and the Bruins protected that lead — and then they protected their place atop Region 7-4A.

Northwest won its second straight region title with 2-1 and 9-1 victories in a doubleheader with the Bulldogs and heads to next week’s Class 4A state playoffs as the region’s No. 1 seed. That gives the Bruins (20-4) the opportunity to host multiple rounds of state, just like last season, when they claimed their first region title since 2007.

Unlike last year’s region title series against Cass — and in the ensuing state playoff series against Grady and Stephens County — Northwest didn’t need to come back from a first-game disappointment against Cedartown (19-6).

“To get Game 1 is always big,” said Pierce, a junior. “You have the emotional upside and you can get it all finished in one day.”

With the opener tied at 1 — Omar Hernandez had a two-out single to score Andy Whisenant in the third inning, but Cedartown scored in the fourth — Pierce reached second base on an error to start the sixth. Caleb Shiflett’s sacrifice moved Pierce to third and Walker Maret’s groundout scored Pierce to put Northwest ahead for good.

With Northwest having leaned on starter Logan Hilton for five strong innings to that point, coach Todd Middleton handed the ball to Pierce.

“(Hilton) didn’t come out because he was tired or did anything wrong,” Middleton said. “It’s like (assistant) coach (Brad) Dunn said, we’re one swing away from losing. So we brought Seth in right there to finish it.”

It was the only pitching change he had to make the rest of the day. Pierce stranded a Cedartown baserunner at second in the sixth and retired the Bulldogs in order in the seventh.

Pierce went the distance in the second game, during which the Bruins broke a scoreless tie with a four-run third inning. Whisenant’s RBI single brought home Hernandez, Will Brock’s sacrifice fly scored Hilton and Diego Peralta’s two-run homer followed.

Northwest scored four more runs in the fourth — two on Whisenant’s bases-loaded single — and one in the sixth as Pierce’s double scored Edwin Hernandez.

Pierce pitched nine innings total, allowing one earned run on three hits and two walks. He struck out 13.

Hilton’s pitching performance was a battle he kept winning. He dealt with baserunners in four of five innings and allowed six hits and a walk but only gave up one run and had six strikeouts. His best inning was the fifth, when he threw seven pitches to three batters.

“My confidence got higher and higher with each inning,” Hilton said.

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