Crisp Academy’s Jake Smith takes the throw at second-base as Bethlehem Christian’s P.T. Klein slides in during Game 1 of the GISA Class A best-of-three state championship series Friday at Crisp Academy. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
CORDELE — Matt White watched the ball zip off his bat and carry Bethlehem Christian Academy rightfielder Brad Toxen deep into the outfield tracks.
The rest of the Crisp Academy student section stood and cheered, only to be disappointed when Toxen hauled in the deep ball to secure the one-run victory in Game 2 of the GISA Class A state baseball finals Friday at Crisp Academy.
Bethlehem’s 7-6 win in the second game, after the Wildcats took Game 1, 6-2, will set up a winner-take-all Game 3 for the Class A state championship today at 1 p.m.
“We’ve just got to go into Game 3 with a fresh mindset that the score is 0-0, go out and play our game to win,” Crisp Academy’s Greyson Farrow said. “That’s all we can do.”
After playing a near-flawless first game, the Wildcats suffered a gut-wrenching loss in Game 2, cutting a three-run deficit in the seventh inning to just a run. Even tougher was the fact that Crisp Academy had a chance to tie, but an ugly series of events that resulted in a pair of ejections marred the Wildcats’ near comeback.
After Farrow’s single scored a pair of runs, Crisp catcher James Wessel was gunned down at the plate on a controversial play. The Wildcats argued that Bethlehem blocked the plate, while the Knights argued that Wessel bowled over their catcher.
A brief altercation erupted before the homeplate umpire tossed Wessel and Bethlehem’s Ryan Whiting, meaning both will be ineligible to play in today’s game.
Following a change of pitchers, Bethlehem walked Travis Turner with two outs in the inning before getting White to fly out with the tying run at second, and the go-ahead run at first.
“There is a lot of fight in this team,” said White, who pitched in relief in Game 2. “We’ve got a bunch of good guys and play hard for each other like a family.”
The Wildcats wasted no time in the second game after winning Game 1, using back-to-back doubles from Jake Smith and Jeff McKinney followed by Wessel’s RBI single to take a 2-0 lead.
But Bethlehem cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the first and added another in the third before taking control when they sent 10 batters to the plate in the fourth inning and scored five runs to take a commanding 7-2 advantage.
Crisp Academy fought back in the fifth on Wessel’s RBI single that plated two runs to make it 7-4.
McKinney gave the Wildcats all the momentum they needed in Game 1, allowing just a pair of runs on five hits and striking out five. On a muggy and miserable afternoon, the senior looked more like a champion dart-thrower, hitting the bullseye more often than he missed on a day that seemed more fitting to hang out by the pool.
“Everything was working good except for that one inning where I was slipping (on the mound),” McKinney said. “My curveball was working pretty well and they weren’t catching up with my fastball. I was locating my pitches pretty well.”
McKinney helped himself in the first inning when his RBI single scored Smith for an early 1-0 lead. White’s RBI single in the third made it 2-0, then after Bethlehem tied the game at 2 in the fourth, back-to-back RBI singles from Wessel and Farrow ignited a three-run fourth inning in which the Wildcats took the lead for good.
With McKinney in command, that was all the Wildcats needed.
One area Crisp Academy must improve upon is its offense from the bottom portion of the lineup. Of the nine hits the Wildcats mustered in Game 2, eight came from the top four batters in the lineup — Smith, McKinney, Wessel and Farrow — who collected two hits each. John Wright had the only other hit.
White is confident the Wildcats will be ready today.
“We’ve got to come out with more enthusiasm,” he said. “And we’ve got to do the things we’ve done all year — good pitching, defense and timely hitting. If we can do those things, I believe we can get it done.”