Seminole County's Justin Burke, Chris Brown and Justin Elijah lifted the Indians to a win in Game 1 of their best-of-three GHSA Class A state playoff series with Schley County on Thursday, but Schley came back to win Game 2 and set the stage for a do-or-die Game 3 tonight in Donalsonville.
Calvary Day finishes off Miller in Game 2, 18-4
SAVANNAH — Miller County’s season came to an end Thursday in a 18-4 loss to state power Calvary Day, which swept the Pirates in the second round of the GHSA Class A state playoffs.
“We just ran out of pitching,’’ Miller County coach Chris Buckhalter said. “The kids played hard, played tough. We just didn’t have enough pitching.’’
It was a breakout year for Miller, which hadn’t won a playoff series since 1986, but the Pirates got a tough draw in the bracket and faced Calvary Day, a Final Four team a year ago, on the road. They lost the opener 6-0, and were down, 10-0, in the third inning when rain wiped out Game 2 on Wednesday. GHSA rules state Game 2 would start from scratch.
Miller (17-12) used five pitchers but couldn’t slow down Calvary Day. T.T. Barber and Ty Sheffield both drove in two runs for Miller.
“We lose three seniors and return everybody else,’’ Buckhalter said. “We’re going to be good for the next couple of years. It was good to get this kind of experience in the playoffs this year. I’m really proud of the kids. They’re the first at Miller to win in the playoffs since 1986. We had a good year.’’
DONALSONVILLE — Resilient.
That’s the word Truette Johnson has used for his team all year, and he will find out today just how Teflon-tough his kids are when they play a do-or-die Game 3 against Schley County in the Sweet 16 round of the GHSA Class A state playoffs.
“Here’s what I think: I think they can pitch better than us, field better than us and hit better than us, but these kids find a way to win,’’ said Johnson of today’s Game 3 matchup, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. in Donalsonville. “I believe we’ll find a way to win. We’re going to find out.’’
It has come down to a winner-take-all game after the two teams split the first two games of the best-of-three series Thursday. Seminole came back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to win the opener, 5-2, but Schley came back to win the nightcap, 7-2, with a four-run fifth and a two-run sixth inning.
The two teams are 1-1, but Johnson has an ace in the hole.
He saved one of his best pitchers for Game 3. Josh Buczek, who is 5-2 with four saves and a 2.06 ERA, will start for Seminole County tonight in a game that may well define the Indians’ season.
Schley (18-11) threw its top two pitchers Thursday and Justin Barnes, the team’s ace, kept the Wildcats alive by winning Game 2.
Seminole (25-5) used a pair of sophomores — Bradley Harris and Will Cunningham — and both pitched well, but a bunt-o-rama in the bottom of the fifth lifted Schley to the win.
“(Harris and Cunningham) did a good job, but we just couldn’t score any runs,’’ Johnson said. “We left some men on base. We just didn’t get a two-out hit.’’
Johnson believes in his game plan.
“I didn’t want to go into Game 3 and not have enough pitching,’’ Johnson said. “We didn’t want to pitch No. 1 and No. 2 and have the sophomores have that kind of pressure in Game 3.’’
If there’s pressure, Seminole isn’t feeling it.
“They threw their No. 1 and No. 2,’’ said Justin Burke, who pitched a complete game in the opener to improve to 6-0 for the season. “We’re in good shape. I think we’ll win. There’s nothing we can’t do.’’
Burke plays that way.
He stopped Schley on the mound in the opener, striking out seven along the way. He gave up two homers, which accounted for all of Schley’s runs, but was stingy in the critical final innings. He also had a big RBI single in Seminole’s three-run sixth inning that put the game away.
The Indians were down 2-0 and 3-2. Jett Copsias’ two-run homer gave Schley the lead in the top of the third, and Jamie Jacobson hit a solo shot in the top of the fourth to make it a 3-2 game.
Chris Brown, The Herald’s 2011 John Reynolds Player of the Year in football, belted his third homer of the season, a two-run shot that brought home Dee Virgin in the bottom of the third and knotted the score at 2-2. Virgin led off the sixth with a double, moved to third on Brown’s tough, infield grounder and then scored on Burke’s single to center. Brown scored on Hudson Hannah’s ground out to short, and Hannah came home on an error to make it a 5-3 game. Burke did the rest.
“Justin Burke was the first game,’’ Johnson said. “He gave up a couple of home runs, but he shut them down after that.’’
Burke, who catches when he’s not on the mound, proved that his arm was fine in Game 2. He threw out a runner trying to steal second and picked off a runner at first base. He also had three more hits, scored twice and drove in a run. His RBI single in the first scored Brown, who reached on a two-base error.
Burke led off the fourth with a single, advanced to third on an error and scored on Stephen Kenyon’s high chopper to second to give the Indians a 2-1 lead, and it looked like it was going to be Seminole’s day with a clean sweep of the series, especially after Justin Elijah’s play in the first inning.
Colton “Big Train” Satterfield hit a monster shot to dead center, but Elijah, a sophomore, took off like Willie Mays and somehow caught up with the ball, making a spectacular diving grab at the wall. He not only made the catch of the season, but whirled and threw back to the infield, where Seminole doubled up Jett Copsias, who was already past second base when Elijah made the diving catch.
Elijah said he just never gave up on the ball.
“I just dropped my head and started running,’’ he said. “It felt great to make that catch, and felt even better when I got back up and threw the guy out at first.’’
The large crowd was buzzing after the catch, and the Seminole fans were on their feet after the inning-ending double play.
“That’s one of the best catches I’ve ever seen,’’ Schley County coach Chuck Cheek said.
That was the irony of Game 2. Schley hit the ball hard early and couldn’t score, and then it broke the game open playing the smallest of small ball.
Schley scored a run in the fourth inning on Jacobson’s two-out, RBI single up the middle, and then took the lead in the fifth without hitting the ball more than 70 feet. An infield single, four bunts and a couple of errors gave Schley a 3-2 lead, and Copsias finally hit the ball out of the infield for a two-run single to left to make it a 5-2 game.
“They bunted on us, and we couldn’t field the ball,’’ Johnson said. “We didn’t execute. Execution is everything. They hurt us with the bunt in Game 2, and we hurt them with our base-running in Game 1.’’
Even Cheek shook his head over his team’s big bunt inning.
“It was strange,’’ he said. “We were hitting the ball all over the place and getting nothing, and then we started bunting and scoring runs. It was strange the way it worked out.’’
The bunt-o-rama was enough to even the series, thanks to Barnes, who improved to 10-3 for Schley.
“It was a tough inning on those bunts,’’ said Brown, who plays first base. “We knew what they were doing. We just made mistakes. But I feel like we will come out (today) with a lot of confidence. We’ve got our No. 2 pitcher going for us. I feel we will come back strong.’’
Elijah felt the same way.
“That was a heartbreaker to lose that game,’’ he said. “But we’re coming out hard (tonight) and doing what we have to do.’’
That sounds pretty resilient.