By Doug Hawley
TUNNEL HILL —
If Northwest Whitfield High School’s baseball team had anyone worried after losing the opener of its best-of-three Class 4A state playoffs series with Grady, it wasn’t the Bruins’ coach.
They went out and proved him right in Game 2.
Hosting the Grey Knights at Richard S. Chumley Field in the opening round of state, Northwest lost the first game of Friday’s doubleheader 3-1 before bouncing back to win the second game 11-8 despite trailing by four runs midway through the nightcap.
“I knew that we wouldn’t lay down,” Northwest coach Todd Middleton said. “We came back like we’ve often done.”
Although rain is in the forecast today, Grady (11-13), the No. 4 seed from Region 6-4A, and Region 7-4A champion Northwest (21-6) are scheduled to play again at 5 p.m. in a decisive matchup.
Northwest senior center fielder Brandon Smith provided some heroics in the finale by belting a pair of solo home runs in the fourth and sixth innings.
“The last time I hit two homers in a game was in the eighth grade,” Smith said. “I had only hit one other home run this season. I had been hitting well in (batting practice).”
Northwest, the visiting team in Game 2, trailed 7-3 through three innings and trailed 7-5 heading into the sixth, when three runs gave the Bruins an 8-7 advantage they did not relinquish.
Smith started the scoring in that inning with his second homer. Brady Middleton doubled, Diego Peralta singled and Edwin Hernandez delivered a sacrifice fly to right field that knotted the score at 7-all. A.J. Orozco then singled and Wade Terrell’s single drove across the go-ahead run.
Terrell also provided some dandy relief work over the final three innings against the hard-hitting Grey Knights. He allowed one run while scattering four hits, striking out three and walking two.
“I was particularly pleased with my pitching,” Terrell said. “I was using probably 20 percent fastballs, 30 percent curves and 50 percent changeups. They were swinging through the changeup.”
Northwest pounded out a dozen hits. Peralta went 3-for-5, while Middleton, Smith and Terrell each added two hits.
“We came out undisciplined all day at the plate,” said Middleton, the coach’s son and a senior second baseman who will play at Berry College next year. “We just had to keep on trucking. We were just determined to get to the next game.”
While Northwest has the superior seed, Grady coach Mark Davidson believes his team was prepared for the postseason by competing in Region 6-4A, which includes 12-time state champion Marist.
“We know that we’re in a tough region,” Davidson said. “That second game got away from us. However, this team is not a No. 1 seed for nothing. They hit the ball well. They also play good defense.”
In the second game, starter Andy Whisenant and Phillip Hammonds preceded Terrell on the mound. Grady’s 11-hit attack featured early two-run homers by Alex Munger and Davis Schwartz. Pete Mastin added a solo home run in the final inning.
“In the first game, we didn’t hit well, and we didn’t execute well,” coach Middleton said. “They did a better job of executing than we did.”
In the opener, Grady’s Liano Henery scattered six hits while working all seven innings on the mound. He kept the Bruins off stride by changing speeds while striking out four and walking one.
Middleton, Hernandez and Whisenant collected two hits apiece for the Bruins.
Seth Pierce went the distance for Northwest. The sophomore lefty yielded nine hits, struck out six and issued three walks.
Northwest’s lone run came in the third inning and narrowed Grady’s lead to 2-1. Smith was hit by a pitch, Middleton had a bunt single, and Hernandez contributed an RBI with an infield hit.
Schwartz paced the Grey Knights’ attack by going 3-for-4, while Amyr Smith was 2-for-3.
“I don’t know who will start for us,” coach Middleton said of his pitching choice today, “It will depend on how Andy and the others feel. We’ve got a lot of pitchers.”
• Christian Heritage’s season ended in Macon with two losses to First Presbyterian Day in the first round of the Class A private schools state playoffs.
The Lions lost 4-1 in the first game and 2-0 in the second.
Christian Heritage’s Michael McKinney pitched 5 2/3 innings in the first game, walking three and striking out five. He allowed eight hits and three earned runs.
The lone run for the Lions (12-13) came in the top of the fourth. Jake Stokes’ RBI double gave Christian Heritage a 1-0 lead, but First Presbyterian Day scored twice in the bottom half of the inning. The Lions only had three hits in the game.
The second game was scoreless until the top of the seventh, when First Presbyterian Day scored both of its runs off Christian Heritage starter Spencer Robbins.
Robbins pitched the entire game, allowing one earned run off four hits and two walks while striking out seven. At the plate, he went 3-for-4 while Stokes finished 2-for-4. The Lions had 10 hits to their opponents’ four.
“We had our chances in the second game but couldn’t get them across,” Christian Heritage coach Noah Stokes said. “We left 12 guys on base.”
This is Christian Heritage’s first year competing in the Georgia High School Association after previously being in the Georgia Independent School Association. Baseball was the school’s first program to reach the postseason in GHSA competition.
“I’m really proud of my team,” coach Stokes said. “It wasn’t to be. We deserved to be here and it hurt our kids to go out like this, especially our seniors, but we left with a fight. It was a good season.”