ATLANTA — Six hours. 14 innings. 26 combined runs. A tied-up series.
Newton County’s first taste of the GHSA baseball playoffs since 2019 did not disappoint.
No. 3 seed Eastside traveled to the Seaver Family Sports Complex in Atlanta on Wednesday to open up a best-of-three series with No. 2 seed St. Pius X in the opening round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs. The two heavyweights proceeded to trade blows, splitting the doubleheader to force a decisive Game 3 on Thursday.
“That’s playoff baseball. That’s what you sign up to do high school baseball for is this moment right here,” Eastside head coach Brandon Crumbley said. “We did some things well, we did some things bad, but at the end of the day it’s playoff baseball. You’ve got to bend but don’t break. That’ why we play three games.”
Let’s take a look at how the action played out in the first two games of the series.
Game 1: Eastside 5, St. Pius X 2
The first three innings were quiet along the offensive front as Eastside southpaw Cade Mitchell and St. Pius X right-hander Agyei Quinichett quickly settled in on the mound.
In the fourth inning, however, it was the Eagles who showed the first signs of life at the plate.
Sambo Button stepped into the box with one out and laced a line-drive double to center field. He moved up to third base on a single from Josh Johnson and later trotted home on a passed ball to score the game’s first run. Shortly thereafter, Ethan Booth snuck a 2-out RBI single just inside the line in shallow right field to double Eastside’s advantage.
Tanner Middlebrooks came up to the plate two at-bats later and connected on a 3-2 pitch that he bounced back up the middle, driving in Booth to make it 3-0.
A fielding error and a run-scoring groundout allowed the Golden Lions to pull within a run in the fifth inning, but Mitchell locked in and stifled the rally. The left-hander went on to finish his outing with 6-plus innings pitched, allowing just three hits and a pair of unearned runs while striking out seven and walking four.
“Cade pitched well,” Crumbley said. “If we don’t give him some runners there, we might go 5-0 in that first game.”
The Eagles tacked on a little insurance in the seventh inning to alleviate pressure for the bullpen and ice the three-run victory.
Game 2: St. Pius X 11, Eastside 8
Despite the echoing pings of hard contact reverberating throughout the complex, both clubs failed to light up the scoreboard for the first three innings of the nightcap.
Once the fourth inning rolled around, however, that changed in a hurry.
Eastside, the designated home team for Game 2, put up a five-spot in the fourth inning. St. Pius X wasted no time answering, exploding for seven runs in the fifth frame to establish their first lead of the day at 7-5.
Button led off the fifth inning and kept his bat on his shoulder to look at ball 1. He connected with the next pitch he saw, launching it to deep right field for a solo home run. Three at-bats later, Booth obliterated a two-run homer to left-center to put the Eagles back in front, 8-7.
B5 | Ethan Booth just belted a two-run shot over the fence in left-center to put the Eagles back in front at 8-7. These boys are absolutely fired up. pic.twitter.com/3cXZG2ibxf— Mason Wittner (@mason_wittner) April 28, 2021
Three outs away from elimination in the seventh inning, St. Pius X peeled its back from the proverbial wall when senior Jack Herring belted a two-run home run to once again put the Golden Lions in the lead. A two-run double off the bat of Sinclair Eberlein pushed the advantage out to 11-8, which would stick as the final.
“It’s a good team. They swing it, one through nine,” Crumbley said of the Golden Lions. “They find a way to hit. We’ve just got to find a way to hit it, too.”
First pitch for Game 3 is scheduled for 4 p.m.