Terrell Academy third baseman Jared Donalson catches a line drive to end the third inning in Thursday’s Game 1 of the GISA Class AA state semifinals against Trinity Christian, which swept the Eagles to advance to next weekend’s championship. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
DUBLIN — Terrell Academy spent the last few weeks playing its best baseball of the season, surging into the GISA Class AA Final 4.
Once the Eagles got there on Thursday, they had what coach Ashley Walker called “a complete meltdown.”
A slow, agonizing meltdown.
“A complete meltdown. An absolute meltdown,” Walker said. “We ran into a very good baseball team in Trinity Christian. They hit the ball and put pressure on us defensively. They pitched well enough. And nothing went our way (Thursday).”
The Eagles didn’t look like themselves at the plate, in the field or on the mound in Thursday’s doubleheader at Trinity Christian, which swept Terrell Academy in back-to-back blowouts, 17-4 and 16-5, to advance to next weekend’s championship series against either Piedmont or Frederica.
The Eagles committed eight errors, walked 12 Crusader hitters and were stunned in easily their most frustrating day of the season.
“Once it started going downhill it just kept going, and then it went into the second game,” said Terrell Academy senior Alan Stewart, who shined brightest for the Eagles with five hits and two runs in six plate appearances.
Trinity Christian junior Seth Morton broke Terrell Academy’s spirit early with two home runs in the first two innings of the opener. The star first baseman entered the game in a slump at the plate, but he broke out of it with a bang, reaching base in nine of his 10 plate appearances. He was 4-for-4 in the first game with seven RBIs and three runs and was 2-for-3 in Game 2 with three runs and an RBI.
“Seth Morton had a career day (Thursday),” Trinity Christian coach Gary Sanders said. “He has been working hard at it. We knew he was due to bust loose, and he finally did in a big fashion. … He is a good player, and he is finally stepping up. He got a couple of pitches he could handle, and he didn’t miss.”
Morton’s first home run off Terrell starter Jordan McDaniel gave the Crusaders an early 3-0 lead. His second blast — which, like the first one, was to left field — was a backbreaker for the Eagles.
“The first one we left a pitch out over the plate, and he did what a good hitter is supposed to do,” Walker said. “The second one he hit, he went down and hit a good pitch. And when he hit that pitch, it was kind of like, now we are in a fight and we have to dig ourselves out of a hole. And we couldn’t quite do it.”
McDaniel walked off the mound and looked toward his dugout with disbelief as Morton rounded the bases for the second time. He was stunned, and so were the Eagles, who spent the rest of the day trying to recover.
Trinity Christian continued to pile on in the third and fourth innings with 11 more runs and an additional nine hits — but Terrell Academy’s three errors in the fourth inning of the opener was what pained Walker more than anything.
The sloppy defense continued in the second game when Trinity Christian scored four unearned runs in the top of the fifth inning on a trio of two-out errors to stretch its lead to six. Moments earlier in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Eagles came to life at the plate with four runs on RBIs from Gavin Sloan, Dalton Dedge and Stewart.
However, Trinity Christian used Terrell’s errors minutes later to stretch its lead back out and then held the Eagles hitless the rest of the game.
“Teams are going to take advantage of extra outs,” Walker said. “Especially when you get to this point of the season, they are going to take advantage of that.”
Jared Donalson was the losing pitcher in Game 2 and gave up eight hits and 11 runs in five innings, but only six of his runs were earned. Trinity Christian’s winning pitchers were Cam Soles and Wyatt Payne. Soles threw a complete game in the opener and allowed nine hits and four runs, while Payne threw six impressive innings in the nightcap and surrendered just six hits and no earned runs.
Stewart was Terrell’s leader at the plate, but Sloan (2 hits, RBI), Dedge (3 hits, 2 RBIs), Jared Sauls (4 hits, 2 RBIs) and Kyle Sellers (2 hits) also hat multi-hit days.
It was a painful day for the Eagles, but it capped a season that Walker walked off the field feeling proud about.
“My guys far exceeded any expectations anybody had for them coming into this season,” he said. “After graduating so many last year, we had a lot of guys step up to win a region championship. And to get to the Final 4 means the world to me.”
It was the Eagles’ first time in the Final 4 since 2009.
“Nobody gave us a chance, and we should be proud to make it this far because nobody gave us a fighting chance,” Stewart said about the season. “I’m proud but a little disappointed that we couldn’t make it further.”