The Whitewater Wildcats set out this season with their sights on nothing less than a state baseball championship. They’re one step closer to that goal after sweeping the Veterans Warhawks in the first two games of a best-of-three semifinals series Monday night.
Whitewater has been here before. Just last year, the Wildcats fell to Houston County in the championship series. This is their chance to put their own mark on history.
“It’s a great feeling to be back (in the championship series). Not many teams get to go once. To go back-to-back is a great accomplishment for these kids,” said coach Rusty Bennett. “Our goal from the very beginning was to get back there. That taste is still in our mouth. We’ve got unfinished business.”
The playoffs have been all about taking care of business. A long road trip to Veterans wasn’t nearly enough to derail the dream. Lights out pitching and clutch hitting gets the team extra rest before they host the finals starting Saturday.
“It’s a great moment. It’s great for the school. It’s great for the city of Fayetteville. We’re just looking forward to Saturday,” said Bennett.
Game one was a pitcher’s duel of the highest order. Jake Lee dominated, throwing seven shutout innings, striking out 11, and allowing just two hits. Veteran’s starter was equally sharp, not giving up a run until extra innings.
“To get to eight innings, Jake threw great, and we did what we had to do to get that run across,” said Bennett. “Their guy threw a phenomenal game. Hats off to that bunch. Veteran’s got a great program.”
Whitewater made consistent contact all game, but couldn’t get many hits to fall against a solid defense. Seven innings wouldn’t be enough, but the eighth inning would be plenty. JD Norred and Avery Roth singled to start the rally, then Connor Nalley moved the runners over on a sacrifice. Nick Weinstein followed with the only play that would matter in game one, lofting a sacrifice fly to send pinch runner Austin Adams home for the winning run.
“That’s huge for Nick to come up with a sac fly to take the lead,” said Bennett. “Right then, I knew we were going to Colby Taylor and he was going to close the door.”
Taylor did just that, striking out two in a flawless eighth for the save to seal up a 1-0 game one victory.
Ethan Gillis continued the string of dominant pitching in game two. The big lefty allowed a first inning run, then nothing else. Gillis struck out ten in a complete game gem.
Game two was a bit more productive for the Whitewater bats. They responded immediately to Veteran’s opening shot, Jabari Richards driving in Tyler Burdette in the bottom half of the first. The Cats pulled ahead to stay in the third inning, as Miles Jones and Richards each plated a run on a sac fly for a 3-1 lead.
The fifth inning added a little more cushion. Brandon Bell drove in Win Lindsey on a fielder’s choice before Richards picked up his third RBI of the game on another sac fly.
Gillis finished off the seventh with a flourish, striking out two of the final three batters, to send Whitewater back to the finals.
Whitewater will host either Cartersville or Buford in the best-of-three championship series, starting with a doubleheader on Saturday.
For more photos from the Veterans series, click [btn type=”default or primary or success or info or warning or danger or link” link=”http://www.cdphotography23.com/Sports/High-School/Baseball/Baseball-2015/Whitewater-vs-Veterans-Final-4/”]here[/btn].