MOULTRIE -- It was difficult to tell which was harder for Colquitt County baseball coach Tony Kirkland to deal with Tuesday: the fact that two big Parkview innings over the course of of three games allowed the Panthers to knock the Packers out of a shot at a state championship, or that he had to bid farewell to nine seniors he had become especially close to.
Parkview scored six runs in the first inning and went on to defeat the Packers, 8-2, in the deciding game of their GHSA Class AAAAA state semifinal series at Ike Aultman Field at Packer Park on Tuesday night.
"These nine seniors, and the ones who played last year, changed this program," said Kirkland, who was an assistant coach on the 1997 and 2003 state champion Colquitt County teams before going to South Effingham as a head coach for six seasons. "Just think of what they have done. This group has put us back on the map."
The two teams had split their doubleheader Monday with the Packers winning the opener, 3-0, on a Cole Pitts three-hitter.
Colquitt led 4-1 in the nightcap when Parkview scored seven runs in the fifth inning and held on to win 8-4.
In Tuesday's deciding game, the first four Panthers reached base and before many fans had found seats, Parkview led 6-0.
Colquitt tried to scratch its way back into the game by scoring two runs in the bottom of the first, but that was all the Packers could muster.
Parkview added two more runs in the top of the seventh and now will return home to Lilburn to play host to Hillgrove in the state championship series, which will begin with a Saturday doubleheader.
Hillgrove, a five-year-old school in Cobb County, advanced to its first state championship series when it won a doubleheader over Newnan 8-6 and 8-0 on Monday.
Colquitt County, which just two years ago finished 9-15, came to within a game of taking a shot at its first state championship since 2003.
The Packers, who were 10-10 on April 15, finish 22-14 and won the Region 1-AAAAA championship with a 9-3 record.
Colquitt had not won as many as 20 games since 2003.
The end of this season came when the Packers were unable to put an early end to two big Parkview innings and could not hit as they had during its first three playoff series.
Parkview, which had been ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAA all season, had some outstanding batting averages throughout its lineup.
But the Panthers also got some outstanding pitching against the Packers.
Game 1 starter Matt Olson pitched well, but could not match Pitts. Olson, junior, allowed justsix hits.
In Games 2 and 3, the Panthers got stellar outings from Jesse Foster and Phillip Taylor and that was the difference. Colquitt got eight hits in the second game loss on Monday and just four on Tuesday.
Parkview got all the runs it would need on one swing of Olson's bat in the first inning.
Josh Hart led off the game against Colquitt starter Austin Dykes with a single to right and Edwin Arias drew a walk.
Olson then turned on the first pitch he saw from Dykes and hit it far over fence in right center to put the Panthers up 3-0.
When Jeff Ronpirin followed with a double, Kirkland lifted Dykes in favor of Aubrey McCarty, who started Game 2 on Monday.
McCarty got two outs before giving up an infield single to Jarett Freeland. Rob Youngblood followed with a home run inside the foul pole in left to put the Panthers up 6-0.
Parkview did not go long with its starter either in the bottom of the first.
Ryan Davis was hit by the first pitch thrown by freshman left-hander Mac Marshall.
Matt Creech drew a walk and Cole Pitts doubled to right to plate the Packers first run.
After Marshall hit Dykes with a pitch, he was lifted and replaced with Jesse Foster, who started Game 2 for the Panthers.
Foster gave up a sacrifice fly to Zac Goodno, but by the time he left after the sixth inning, he had given up no runs and just two hits.
Phillip Taylor, who got the win in Game 2, pitched the seventh and gave up an infield hit to Payne Newsome and hit Blake Stamps with a pitch, but the got the final out of the game.
The Panthers scored their final two runs in the top of the seventh when Hart walked and Arias singled.
Kirkland lifted McCarty in favor of Goodno, who won three state playoff games in relief for the Packers.
Olson drove in Hart with a single and Ronpirin scored Arias with a sacrifice fly.
Parkview pounded out 11 hits, with every starter getting at least one.
Arias and Olson had two hits. Hart, Ronpirin, Ryan Blanton, Jack Esmonde, Freeland, Youngblood and Travis Noraine each had one.
The Panthers took a .385 batting average into the series.
The Packers got a double by Pitts and singles by Zac Goodno, Blake Stamps and Payne Newsome.
"We lost to a good team," said Kirkland, who has now gone to the Final Four as a head coach five times, although he is still looking for his first trip to the finals.
Like Parkview, which started just one senior, the Packers appear to have some talent coming along.
Colquitt will lose nine seniors, including Davis, Hayden Kudela, Cole Pitts, Payne Newsome Blake Stamps and Zac Goodno, all of whom were starters.
The other seniors are Tyler Brown, Daylon Connell and Taylor Barber.
Kirkland says those players are the ones who have turned the program around.
The Packers will build around current junior starters McCarty, Dykes, Creech and Vann Pitts.
The Packers also are counting on a promising group of ninth-graders which has won 35 games during the past two seasons.
Kirkland is hoping the young players can build on what this year's team was able to accomplish.
"These seniors have provided a good path," Kirkland said. "These young guys will just have to stay on that path."