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After best regular season in years, Miller County ousted from state tourney

Gordon Lee sweeps Miller County in state quarterfinals

Miller County shortstop Cole Vann throws the ball to first base Wednesday during the opening game of the Pirates’ Class A quarterfinal series against Gordon Lee. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

Miller County shortstop Cole Vann throws the ball to first base Wednesday during the opening game of the Pirates’ Class A quarterfinal series against Gordon Lee. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

Crisp Co. forces deciding Game 3 with West Laurens

CORDELE — For the second straight series in the Class AAAA state playoffs, Crisp County will play a deciding Game 3.

After beating South Effingham in three games in last week’s opening round, the Cougars split with West Laurens on Wednesday with a trip to the quarterfinals on the line.

Crisp County fell behind early to West Laurens in the opener and eventually lost, 7-0, but the Region 1-AAAA No. 1 seed Cougars fought back in the second game with a 7-3 victory to keep their season alive.

Taylor Walls was the winning pitcher in Game 2, and the senior also got Crisp started at the plate with a home run. West Laurens took a 2-1 lead in the second inning, but Crisp stormed back to take a 5-3 lead in the third inning. The Cougars held their two-run advantage until they added two more runs in the sixth inning.

Game 3 is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today.

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Miller County pitcher Michael Cowart started Game 1 Wednesday against Gordon Lee, tossing five innings and allowing five hits and five runs in a 6-1 loss. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

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Miller County’s Jake Warren slides into second base Wednesday against Gordon Lee as Trojan shortstop Zack Cobb bobbles the toss from second baseman Sean Coakley. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

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Miller County’s Cole Vann slides safely into third base under the tag of Gordon Lee’s Conrad Broom. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

COLQUITT — Things got bad for the Miller County baseball team when Gordon Lee pulled away late in the opener of Wednesday’s Class A public school quarterfinals.

Then they got worse.

After a tough 6-1 loss to Gordon Lee in the opening game, the Pirates were blindsided by the visiting Trojans in a crushing 16-1 loss in three innings, ending Miller County’s season.

It was a brutal way for it all to end for the Pirates, who had won the school’s first region title in 28 years and were coming off a first-round sweep of Claxton County.

It was sudden, and it was heartbreaking.

“It seemed like the (Game 1 loss) snowballed into the second game, and we never could get our heads back,” Miller County coach Eddie Whitaker said. “But to win the first region title in 28 years is special. I don’t know if everybody hears it, but when they break it down after a huddle, they don’t say, ‘Team.’ They say, ‘Family.’ It’s been a family all year.”

The pitching of Gordon Lee proved to be too strong for a Miller County team that entered the doubleheader with some of the hottest bats in Georgia. The Pirates had more than 30 hits in last week’s doubleheader against Claxton County and had outscored opponents 92-9 during a seven-game winning streak, but Gordon Lee pitchers Jake Rogers and Conrad Broom held Miller County to five hits in Wednesday’s games and racked up 14 strikeouts in 10 innings.

Miller County’s Cole Vann, who had the Pirates’ only hit in the second game, believes Final 4-bound Gordon Lee is the team to beat in the state semifinals.

“I have seen a couple of other teams, and I believe Gordon Lee will win the state title,” Vann said. “Without a doubt, they will win the state title. They are better than advertised.”

As good as Gordon Lee is, Miller County matched the Trojans punch for punch for most of the opening game. Broom hit a second-inning home run to dead center field to put Gordon Lee on top 2-0, but Miller County bounced back with a run in the top of the third inning to cut the Trojans’ lead in half. Jake Warren, who had two of Miller County’s four hits in the opener, scored on a throwing error after a Tyler Clay hit with two outs in the third inning.

Clay’s single, however, was the final hit of the game for the Pirates, who fell behind 5-1 in the sixth inning and then allowed Gordon Lee one more insurance run in the seventh.

Michael Cowart, who fought through the pain of a season-long shoulder blade injury, started the opener for the Pirates and was strong for the first five innings, allowing just three hits and a pair of runs. But then the Trojans started scoring in the sixth inning — and they didn’t stop.

After scoring four runs in the final two innings of the opening game, they opened Game 2 with a five-run first inning and then put the mercy rule into effect with 11 runs in the second inning.

Miller County pitchers Vann, Clay, Cody Chapman and Luke Sheffield combined to retire just six Gordon Lee batters in the second game and allowed 19 base runners and nine hits.

“It was a tough loss the first game, and it kind of carried over,” Vann explained. “It was tough to mentally come back for Games 2 and 3, especially knowing that they had the pitching depth.”

The loss wrapped up a season that saw the Pirates finish at 20-8 overall — the program’s first 20-win season in a decade.

It was a special run for the Pirates, but it was one that ended too soon for Cowart, one of the team’s four seniors.

“We had a lot of accomplishments this season, being the first Miller County team in 20-something years to win a region championship. That’s saying something,” Cowart said. “We have 20 wins on the season. That’s saying something. We played like champs all year, but that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t finish.”