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GISA CLASS AAA STATE BASEBALL PLAYOFFS: Deerfield sends Arlington home after pair of 12-1 routs in Elite 8

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Arlington Christian head baseball coach David White cracked a small smile, shifted his shoulders slightly and pondered the question for about two seconds before giving his answer.

"What would I do differently if we could go back and play the games again?" White repeated after getting thrashed by Deerfield, 12-1 -- not once, but twice -- during Friday's doubleheader sweep in the Elite 8 round of the GISA state tournament. "Well, for one, play a whole lot better than we did."

As for the Knights? They played about as well as they possibly could.

Deerfield (18-7) cruised to a pair of easy wins Friday at home -- the first in five innings -- and is headed back to the Final Four for the first time since 2008, where it lost to longtime nemesis Tattnall Square in the championship series.

And don't look now, but awaiting the Knights could be none other than the Trojans in the semis should Tattnall get by Tiftarea in its best-of-three series that starts today.

If that happens, Friday's Game 2 hero Rhett Cooper -- who pitched a one-hitter, struck out seven and then went 3-for-4 at the plate -- wouldn't mind it a bit. After all, Tattnall -- winners of two of the last three Class AAA state crowns -- has eliminated DWS from the state playoffs every year since 2008.

"Well, if Tiftarea wins, we get to play at home and if Tattnall wins, we have to go (to Macon)," Cooper said, breaking down the potential matchups. "But me, personally, I'd rather play Tattnall. It's been a while since we've beat Tattnall and it's time to switch things up (and get some revenge).

"We're ready to start our own dynasty."

With guys like Cooper, Chris Moates, Banks Kinslow and a host of other clutch role players, the Knights might very well be on their way to doing just that.

Deerfield outhit Arlington (10-9) between the two games by a staggering margin of 32-6 as Moates, the Knights' senior slugger and ace on the mound, moved to 6-3 on the season after his Game 1 performance (6Ks, 6 hits), then slammed the door shut in the opener with a 370-foot grand slam that capped off a two-out, 10-running inning by DWS that ended the game by run rule in the bottom of the fifth.

Moates said he knew when he stepped into the box for the second time in the fifth after the Knights batted around in the order that he had a chance to put an exclamation point on Game 1.

"I wasn't not trying to hit a home run, but I knew in the back of my mind the game was over if I did," Moates said with a grin about his seventh round-tripper of the season. "I knew if we ended it right there, we'd (not only have one win under our belts) but I could save my pitch count."

Deerfield trailed, 1-0, after Arlington drew first blood in the top half of the first inning, but the Knights roared back in the bottom of the fourth inning when senior Davis Moore -- who didn't return to the team from a hamstring injury until the state playoffs started a week ago -- smacked a two-out, bases-loaded single that brought home two runs to give the Knights a 2-1 lead.

And DWS wouldn't give it back.

Moates then got out of a jam with two runners on and behind in the count in the top of the fifth, setting up Deerfield's monster bottom half of the inning that seemed like it lasted as long as the entire first four-and-half innings.

After Harris Webb flied out to start the inning, Kinslow, Moates and Moore all singled in succession to load the bases. Lindsey Short then struck out swinging, sending the Knights down to their final out.

That's when the barrage began.

Michael Laslie walked, bringing home Kinslow to make it 3-1; Cooper then singled, scoring Moates and Cooper Shoemaker -- who was brought on to run for Moore -- to make it 5-1; Matt Moree followed that with a single to bring home Cooper and Laslie for a 7-1 lead.

White had seen enough at that point, pulling his starter in favor of reliever Charod Strickland.

But it didn't make a difference.

Stickland promptly came in and gave up another a hit to Gil Gillespie, scoring Moree, to make it 8-1. Webb then came back up for the second time in the inning, only this time he got a hit, followed by another single from Kinslow to load the bases and set the stage for Moates' blast.

"If you leave a pitch up for him and he gets a hold of it, it's going to go a long way," DWS coach Rod Murray said of Moates home run that had the Knights dancing out of the dugout to welcome their slugger in after he trotted the bases. "We knew the second he hit that one it was gone."

Murray, for one, was glad to win in a blowout for a change after watching his team fall in five of their seven losses this season by one run.

"It's nice to always not to be involved in one-game games, and we've been in our share this season," Murray said. "Thankfully, (Friday) that wasn't the case."

In Game 2, the case wasn't much different.

DWS jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first after the Knights, per GISA rules, had to be the visiting team in Game 2 of the best-of-three series. Arlington, however, answered right back in the bottom of the first when Cooper began struggling with his command and was spraying pitches all over the place like a super-soaker at a summer pool party. He gave up a single to Strickland, then watched as Strickland advanced to second and then third on two straight wild pitches before eventually scoring to make it 3-1 after Arlington notched its first -- and only -- hit of Game 2.

Then, after two straights walks by Cooper to load the bases, came arguably the biggest play of either game.

Arlington's Andre Souther came to bat and pushed Cooper to a full count, but Cooper got out of the jam the ol' fashioned way: a pickoff throw to Moates at first that sent the DWS faithful and his teammates into a frenzy.

"I have to give credit to Moates on that one; he called that play," Cooper said of the pickoff. "He just saw something and I made the throw."

Added Moates: "(The runner) had a big lead and (the count was) 3-2, two outs, so we knew he was trying to get a jump and we just thought we could get him."

And they did.

The pickoff not only ended the threat, it set the stage for a masterful performance by Cooper the rest of the way. From the second inning on, he went three-up, three-down every inning but once against the Arlington lineup, including his sixth strikeout of the game in the bottom of the seventh to end it.

"I normally just settle down myself (after I have rough starts)," Cooper said. "I just felt confident after we (got out of the first inning with only giving up one run)."

The Knights managed to score at least one run in every inning from the top of the third on in Game 2, officially picking up where they'd left off in Game 1. They totaled 19 hits in the nightcap as Kinslow went 2-for-4, Moree was 4-for-5, Cooper 3-for-4, Moates 3-for-4 and Gillespie 3-for-3.

Deerfield led, 9-1, going into the top of the seventh before tacking on three more runs just for good measure, although the final score could've been a lot worse if not for a controversial call that had the crowd and the Knights bench up in arms in the top of the fourth.

Leading 4-1, Deerfield put three more runs on the board to make it 7-1 and appeared on its way to another run-rule rout when Cooper came to the plate with Moore at second and Moates on third with one out. Cooper swung on a 2-1 count on a pitch that -- at first -- appeared to get away from the Arlington catcher Weis. But Weis recovered nicely and attempted to pick off Moates at third base, only he badly overthrew the ball. Moates and Moore then both came around to score after the Arlington outfielder misplayed the overthrow, but the ump waved off both the runs, calling Cooper's swing a foul ball -- but only after Moates and Moore had already gone into the dugout.

Cooper was in disbelief and immediately called out to Murray, who didn't see the foul ball call either.

"Coach ... you need to get over here!" Cooper yelled.

Murray argued, but to no avail, and the runners returned to their bases. The Deerfield dugout and several fans made comments about the call, prompting the ump to warn the bench and the fans he was about to start tossing folks from the game if it continued.

Murray said later that he accepted the ump's explanation.

"He said there was a lot of noise around the plate (from the crowd) when the overthrow first happened and no one heard him make (the foul ball call)," Murray said.

Ultimately, it didn't matter.

"It's a joy to be here and I'm just proud of how the kids played. They got after it (Friday) and played inspired from the very start," Murray said. "We got knocked out in this round a year ago, and it's a joy to be back in the Final Four. We're just going to take it one series at a time from here and you try not to look past (any stage), even being this close (to the state title).

"Right now, we just want to enjoy this moment."

White is sure Deerfield will, because he's pretty sure his kids didn't.

"Credit Deerfield. That's a good team -- maybe the best we've played all season," he said.