Crisp Academy senior Jeff McKinney improved to 8-0 on the mound with a Game 1 win Saturday against David Emanuel. The Wildcats swept the Eagles to advance to next week’s GISA Class A state championship series. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
CORDELE — Hit ‘em early and hit ‘em hard.
That’s what Crisp Academy did to David Emanuel Academy in Saturday’s GISA Class A state semifinals in Cordele, where the Wildcats had two big first innings to sweep the doubleheader, 8-5 and 6-1.
It was the Wildcats’ fifth straight Final 4 appearance, and now they are headed to the championship series for the third time in five years.
They got the party started early Saturday with a four-run first inning in the opener, setting the tone for the rest of the day. Then they exploded in the first inning of Game 2 with five runs and never looked back.
“It’s very important to get started like that and let them know we are here to play ball,” said Cullen Brooks, who had two-run hits in both first innings. “We are not going to go down easy. We are going to hit the ball and make our plays.”
Except for the seventh inning in the opener when the Wildcats committed a couple of two-out errors to allow David Emanuel to score four runs in the final frame, it was a near-flawless effort from Crisp Academy, which is trying to win its first state championship since 2011.
Brooks was a freshman back when the Wildcats won the title and has noticed some similarities shared by this team and the 2011 squad that is immortalized with a team picture that covers the entire back side of the visiting dugout.
“We are starting to look a lot like them,” Brooks said. “I think we have a very, very good chance of getting that ring. We are looking like them, and that’s exciting.”
Crisp will host either Bethlehem Christian or Robert Toombs in next week’s championship series, returning to the same field where the Wildcats were dominant on Saturday.
In the doubleheader sweep of David Emanuel, Crisp Academy combined for 18 hits, had every starter score at least one run and stole 18 bases in 19 attempts.
“It was a total team win,” Crisp Academy coach Tim Harris said. “We had so many guys who did so many things.”
Jeff McKinney started Game 1 for the Wildcats and allowed just one run and three hits the first six innings. He was pulled with two outs in the seventh inning after David Emanuel benefited from two errors and scored four unearned runs off the senior right-hander.
Despite the frustrating final inning, it was a clutch performance from McKinney, who improved to 8-0 this season.
“I felt like at the beginning I wasn’t controlling my pitches very well, but I eventually got it together and started hitting my spots,” McKinney said.
McKinney was one of three Wildcats to drive in a run in the first inning, which was highlighted by Brooks’ two-out, two-run double to put Crisp ahead 4-0. Brooks, the seven-hole hitter, had the type of performance that Harris said it takes to win in the postseason.
“To get to a championship, it takes an extra special effort by somebody who maybe hasn’t been the star all year,” Harris said. “That’s what happened with Cullen Brooks. He stepped up and had that kind of day.”
The Wildcats added to their lead in the third, fifth and sixth innings — insurance runs they ultimately needed because of David Emanuel’s four-run seventh inning. Crisp’s batters combined for 11 hits in the opener with James Wessel (2-4, 2B) and Travis Turner (3-4, 2B, 2 RBI) leading the charge.
In Game 2, Crisp’s Greyson Farrow, Tristen Chambers and Brooks drove in runs in the first inning to take an immediate 5-0 lead. The Wildcats had just one run and four hits the final six innings, but Farrow made sure the first-inning lead was plenty with his gutsy performance on the mound just days after coming down with a high fever and virus.
The transfer from Wilcox County who is in his second year at Crisp Academy said the big first inning on offense was just what he needed to settle in on the mound.
“It gives you a lot of confidence because you know you have the offense behind you and you can just go out and do your job,” he said.
Farrow threw all seven innings and allowed just three hits. He was nearly perfect the final three innings when he allowed just one base runner on a fielding error and struck out five of the final hitters he faced, including all three in the seventh inning.
He also led the Wildcats at the plate in Game 2 with two hits and two RBIs. Turner added two doubles in the nightcap and scored a run.
The Wildcats are unbeaten in the postseason with all four of their victories coming at home — and they are hoping to make it a perfect 6-for-6 with another sweep next weekend.
“We will be comfortable,” Brooks said about playing at home. “We won it on this field four years ago. This is where we practice, and I really believe we can get that ring here.”