By Chris Whitfield
TUNNEL HILL — Hits were at a premium Thursday night in the opening doubleheader of the Region 7-4A baseball championship series.
But Northwest Whitfield High School third baseman Edwin Hernandez got the one that mattered the most for the Bruins.
Hernandez’s two-run triple in the top of the 10th inning in the second game gave Northwest (20-5) a 4-2 win over the Cass Colonels to bring a close to a marathon night of quality pitching from both teams and controversial calls with the promise of another day to come.
Cass (16-9), the Sub-region 7A-4A champion, won the opening game in the best-of-three series 4-1 behind a 14-strikeout performance by LSU signee Dylan Williams, while Andy Whisenant scattered eight hits and had nine strikeouts in going the distance for the Bruins in the nightcap.
The two teams will play at 5:30 p.m. today at Richard S. Chumley Field in the deciding game.
The doubleheader opened with a 5:30 p.m. first pitch but didn’t end until nearly 5 1/2 hours later. Even though pitching dominated the night, there was plenty of action and questioning of calls by coaches from both teams.
Hernandez wouldn’t have even had his chance in the top of the 10th had it not been for a controversial call.
Whisenant led off the inning by getting plunked by Cass pitcher Brandon Etheridge, and after the Colonels recorded a pair of outs, Diego Peralta looped a single to right. Whisenant slid into third as the ball got to Cass’ Hunter Souther and Cass players ran off the field as the trailing umpire called Whisenant out — however, the home plate umpire ruled him safe.
After several minutes of discussion, Whisenant was ruled safe and brought Hernandez to the plate.
He hit a towering shot to left that fell at the base of the fence, and Whisenant and Peralta both scored.
In the bottom of the inning, Etheridge was the first batter for the Colonels and was immediately ejected by the home plate umpire. After giving up a hit to Etheridge’s pinch hitter, Whisenant retired the side to force today’s deciding game.
After dropping the opener, Northwest struck quickly in the nightcap. Hernandez drove in Brandon Smith with an RBI double in the first inning, then the Bruins added another in the third as Whisenant singled to left, stole second and came home on a pair of wild pitches.
Cass scored in the bottom of the third and tied the game in the fifth, and neither team could push across a run until Hernandez’s heroics in the 10th.
• Results from Dalton’s Region 7-4A playoffs series at River Ridge, which River Ridge led 1-0 after winning the first game on Wednesday, were not reported by The Daily Citizen’s deadline.
• Sonoraville 7, North Murray 4: The Mountaineers dropped their final regular season game, falling on the road, and it was a costly one.
“If we would have won, we would have been the fourth seed and going to state,” said North Murray coach Steve Granger, whose team instead finished 10-13 overall and 6-8 in Region 7-2A play.
Sonoraville struck for five runs in the first inning — all were scored with two outs but just one was earned — and didn’t score again until the sixth. North Murray had taken a 1-0 lead before the Phoenix made their first trip to the plate, and the Mountaineers had a too-little, too-late three-run rally in the seventh.
“We just dug ourselves too big of a hole for the rally to fix,” Granger said.
No North Murray player collected more than one hit, but Brandon Brock and Cole Vaughn each had a double, with Vaughn also driving in a run.
On the mound, Jared Goswick started and went 2 2/3 innings — he allowed six runs (one earned) on as many hits while striking out three and walking one — before giving way to Aaron Granger, who allowed an unearned run, but no hits or walks while striking out three.
The Mountaineers lose seniors Brock, Goswick, Jared Campbell and Ethan Lents, but coach Granger saw progress this season and hopes the experience gained will pay off in other big games in the future.
“I definitely think we’re heading in the right direction,” he said.
• Coahulla Creek 7, Adairsville 3: The Colts closed their season with a Region 5-3A victory at home, making up a game that was rained out this past Friday.
Braiden Jacobs went 3-for-4 with a double and a run to lead the offensive charge for the Colts (9-14, 6-8), who scored five runs in the first and added one each in the third and fourth, while Scout Plott was 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run. Blake Phillips, who collected a hit and drove in a run, also picked up the win on the mound.
Phillips allowed two runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out three. Tucker Sheram worked the final two innings, allowing one unearned run on one hit. All of Adairsville’s runs — one each in the first, third and fourth innings — were unearned.
The Colts missed the state playoffs one year after qualifying for the Class 2A bracket in their inaugural season, but coach Michael Bolen saw growth despite not making it to the postseason.
“We gained some valuable experience this year for next year,” he said. “We were younger and a lot more inexperienced this year than last year, believe it or not. And you can practice and do all those situation things you need to do, but the bottom line is you can’t coach experience. They just have to play and gain it that way, and we were able to gain that. A lot of things they had to learn the hard way.”
Bolen said the Colts lost four seniors last season, but that included his entire starting outfield and an infielder. Most of those players were replaced by sophomores with no varsity experience, and that may have showed up in the Colts’ close losses.
“We lost five or six games in the seventh inning or later,” Bolen said.
The Colts also lose four seniors this season. They’ll have to replace Phillips, Plott, Sheram and Cody Wood.
• Coosa 12, Murray County 2: Nick Stiles collected a pair of hits and drove in a run for the Indians (0-17, 0-14 Region 7-2A), who closed out their season with the road loss, which was shortened to five innings by the run rule.
• Murray County’s Dylan Hubbard had never played the back nine at Fields Ferry in Calhoun.
Apparently, unfamiliarity with the course wasn’t a problem.
Hubbard shot a 44 on the back as part of a 17-over-par 89 in the Region 7-2A boys tournament and earned a spot in the Class 2A state tournament. Hubbard will go to state because he had the lowest score among players not on a qualifying team.
Armuchee shot a 334 to earn the team championship with Calhoun a stroke behind. Armuchee advances to the state tournament on May 20 at Rocky Creek Golf Course in Vidalia. Calhoun and Dade County — which finished with a 346 — will play in the Class 2A sectional tournament May 6 at Blueberry Plantation in Alma, where they’ll have the chance to earn a spot at state.
The state tournament field will have 16 teams, and the number of teams advancing out of the sectional tournament will vary depending on how many region champions meet the qualifying score. At least eight teams will advance from the sectional tournament.
Murray County was fourth in the region with a 385, going over the Class 2A sectional qualifying mark of 350. But Hubbard is headed straight for state after finishing eighth individually, and the trip will be a completely new experience for him.
“I don’t even know where Vidalia is,” Hubbard said. “The farthest south I have ever been to play golf is probably Fields Ferry.”
While the Indians have played matches at Fields Ferry in the past, Hubbard said all of those had been nine-hole contests. This was his first time on the back nine, and he was a stroke better coming in than he was going out.
“I didn’t drive as well as I usually do, but I hit my irons a lot better than usual,” Hubbard said. “I was just trying to hit it straight. I played in a group I was comfortable with, and I play a little better when I am relaxed like that. It was a lot slower on the greens than I expected after the rains (Wednesday night). I just tried to hit relaxed shots and not try to overhit anything.”
Hubbard said playing in the same foursome with teammate Brady Todd helped.
Hubbard was joined in contributing to the team score by Jake Ice (91), Todd (102) and Ethan Wright (103).