by Rob Grubbs
It was no surprise the GHSA Class AAAAA baseball quarterfinals series between the Starr’s Mil Panthers (25-10) and the Carrollton Trojans (29-10) went the full three games. Both teams are talented, well-coached, and loaded with great pitchers. It was a recipe for a close and competitive series, and, after splitting the first two games on Wednesday by a score of 6-4 in each, the two squared off one final time Thursday night to see who earned the right to host Loganville in the semifinals next week.
Starr’s Mill coach Brent Moseley went with Air Force Academy signee Nathan Price on the mound, while Carrollton coach Ryan Zaideman countered with Coastal Carolina commit Rhett Daniel in a premiere pitching matchup. The game lived up to the hype, as the Panthers scored a run in the first and got six innings of two-hit ball from Price to shut out the Trojans 3-0. They advance to the baseball final four for the second season in a row.
The stage for the deciding game was set early. Trojan leadoff hitter Destine Udombon hit the first pitch up the middle for a solid single. The fleet Udombon attempted to steal second base, but was thrown out by Panther catcher Charlie Mizzell to end the threat. Later in the inning, Panther leadoff hitter Thad Ector hit a double and scored on a Hayes Heinecke double to go up 1-0.
It was all Starr’s Mil needed as Price turned in a dominant performance. He limited the Trojans to only one hit the rest of the way. He also got a clutch defensive play from freshman Chay Yeager in the bottom of the third. After Trojan Ty Murray led off with a double, he put pressure on the Panthers as he stood at third with one out. Moseley elected to bring the infield in.
“It was just a gut feeling,” Moseley said. On a routine ground ball to second, Yeager threw a strike to Mizzell at the plate to tag out the runner.
Price helped himself out in the bottom of the sixth with a two-run single to push the margin to 3-0, and senior Mitchell Sutton got the final three outs for the clinching victory.
Moseley couldn’t say enough about his starting pitcher.
“Nathan threw 31 pitches in game one, and we asked him to come back today, and from inning one, he was outstanding,” said Moseley. “His changeup was working really good. Those were six unbelievable innings.”
When the dust settled from a series that included a rain delay, some inconsistent calls in the strike zone, and two solid baseball programs, the key moment turned out to be the caught stealing in the top of the first inning in game three.
“That changed things, it neutralized their running game, they never tried again,” said Moseley.
Of course, it is hard to execute a running game when you can’t get on base, and Price made sure of that.
The Panthers now face the Loganville Red Devils (29-6), whom they played in the Final Four last year as well. After the Panthers won game one, the Red Devils swept the last two games on the way to their 2017 state championship. Moseley will look to starting pitcher Heinecke to win his fourth consecutive game one of the tournament. He is no stranger to the Red Devils as he pitched two perfect innings in relief last year in the second game when it was tied. Loganville will be a tough challenge, but the Panthers will continue to go with the formula of outstanding pitching and timely hitting to advance.