Starr’s Mill batters Bainbridge in opening round series
by Rob Grubbs
The Starr’s Mill baseball team clinched the top seed in Region 3-AAAAA over a month ago, and knew it would get a first round playoff series at home. Since that time, the Panthers have been to Tennessee for a spring break four-game tournament, completed their region slate, and finished with a home-and-home series against Region 1-AAAAA winner Harris County. It was time to get back to the business at hand as the Panthers hosted the fourth seed from Region 1-AAAAA, the Bainbridge Bearcats in a Friday night doubleheader.
The Bearcats had been on a roll to close out the season, winning seven of their last eight to finish 17-12. They made the three-hour drive up with six players just named to the all-region team for a best-of-three series feeling confident about their chances. However, the Panthers would flex their top seed muscle and easily sweep the Bearcats with back-to-back offensive explosions to move on to the second round.
The first game started with Bearcat leadoff hitter Carson Inlow hitting an opposite field double off Panther starting pitcher Jake Arnold and scoring on a ground out for an early 1-0 lead. It turned out to be the only lead Bainbridge would have for the series. The Panthers struck quickly in the bottom of the first – loading the bases on singles by Drew Pepper, Brian Port, and Mitchell Sutton. Tyler Courtney and Cole Gilley each drove in a run for a 2-1 lead the Panthers would never relinquish.
Arnold settled in after Inlow’s double, only giving up two more singles through the remainder of the game, while the Panthers opened up an offensive onslaught. Port, Sutton, and Will Evans all get three hits each, and Arnold added two more as the Panthers scored 16 runs on 17 hits. Pinch hitter Nathan Price ended the game in the bottom of the fourth inning with a bases loaded single to invoke the GHSA mercy rule for a 16-1 win. Arnold pitched a complete game with two strike outs and no walks.
Often in these doubleheaders, you wish you could save some of the runs and apply them to the second game. This would not be an issue as the Panthers started right where they left off in game one, scoring 5 runs in the first inning before the Bearcats could get the second out. Panther coach Brent Moseley went with a small ball strategy early with three consecutive hitters getting on via a bunt. After getting a strikeout, Bainbridge was looking to get out of the inning with a double play, but Arnold once again came up big, this time with a two-run single.
The Bearcats showed fight, as catcher Noah Bryant, who will be teammates with Jake Arnold next season at the University of North Georgia, hit a first inning triple and later scored, but the Panthers had gotten too far ahead.
The Panthers racked up 11 hits in game two as their offense stayed red hot. Hayes Heinecke was the starting pitcher and went 4 innings for the win. Jack Moore added 2 innings of perfect relief, and Chance Amell closed out a late Bearcat rally to preserve the 9-4 win and the series sweep.
Lost among the offensive output was the play of Port at shortstop. He was a vacuum cleaner in both games, getting to every ball hit his way, playing a role in 11 of the 28 Bainbridge outs that were put into play. He was constantly ranging to his left to field a ball up the middle and made perfect throws to first.
Moseley said, “Our shortstop just kept making plays, he is really good.”
As for the offense, Moseley commented, “We felt good coming in because we had the best practices of the season this week. The guys have worked hard this week and it showed today. Our bats were ready.”
Hopefully, they remain just as hot as the competition gets tougher each round. Up next, the Kell Longhorns (22-11) from Region 7-AAAAA with a three-game series at home starting today.
McIntosh rolls into round two with sweep of Thomas CC
by Christopher Dunn
The McIntosh Chiefs exorcised last year’s demons with an emphatic sweep of Thomas County Central in round one of the state baseball playoffs Friday night.
Last season the Chiefs opened the playoffs on the road at Columbus, taking game one 12-6. After losing in game two, they looked to rebound with a big lead early in game three, only to see it slip away and end their season. They were determined it would not happen again.
“From last year, the experience of being up 9-2 in the second inning of the third game and blowing it, that helped us win today,” said McIntosh coach David Munoz. “This team has faced adversity, and I’m proud of the way they have handled it.”
The Chiefs are finding themselves at the right time, picking up steam as the regular season wore on to earn the two seed out of their region.
“We don’t have a superstar team, but we have a lot of guys trying to get better fundamentally,” said Munoz, noting they have placed an emphasis on playing small ball. One longtime assistant coach says they are the best bunting team he’s seen in 15 years. “We’ve got our pitching and defense, we’ve just got to find a way to score some runs.”
Runs were tough to come by most of the night, but they manufactured them in the clutch. Kicking off game one, the Chiefs scored one run in the bottom of the first inning with a Kyle Riesselmann triple to drive in Jacob Cole.
The bats went cold, but McIntosh pitcher Daniel Blair had the Yellow Jackets freezing. Blair went the distance, allowing 1 run and scattering 5 hits while striking out 11 and walking 2.
The Jackets plated their lone run in the top of the fifth inning on a two-out hit up the middle to tie the game. Leading off the bottom half, Dane Kinamon gave his Chiefs all the help they needed, blasting a solo home run to left field for the difference in a 2-1 win.
In the clincher, the McIntosh bats stayed quiet until they were needed most. The Jackets pushed across one run in the bottom of the first, but neither team scored again until the fifth. The Chiefs got on the board with a Kinamon RBI double, but the tie was short-lived thanks to a two-run bomb in the bottom half.
McIntosh really came alive in the sixth inning. Ryan Sanders started the rally, reaching on an infield single and moving up on a passed ball and a sacrifice fly. Tyler Biltimier sent him scurrying home with a bloop into no man’s land between third and left, a distance that was kind to the Chiefs the rest of the night.
“We’ve worked on that the last two weeks,” said Munoz. “We know we don’t have the power hitters, so we worked on small ball, and we worked on stealing and putting on pressure by running the bases.”
Daniel Blair followed with a triple, and he was joined on base after Duncan Farrell was plunked. Christophe Senghor made them pay, tripling home Blair and pinch runner Ashton Angier to grab a 4-3 lead.
They kept the momentum going in the seventh inning with Cole leading off with a soft shot in between second and right field that was misplayed, allowing him to race all the way to third. After Riesselmann walked and stole second, Sanders played hit it where they couldn’t get it again and found no man’s land for the Chiefs to score Cole. Andrew Pinckney reached on a bunt single, and Riesselmann raced home on a throw to third that went to the outfield, bumping the lead to 6-3. Following him around the bases, Pinckney scored on a wild pitch. The eighth and final run came courtesy of another Senghor base knock.
Zach Sanders got the start for the Chiefs and pitched a solid 4 innings, allowing 1 earned run. Conner Koscevic, Hudson Macnellis, and Christophe Senghor each pitched an inning, Senghor ending the game with a strikeout to punch a ticket to the Sweet 16.
McIntosh travels to play Arabia Mountain in round two.