MONTICELLO, Ga. — Piedmont Academy has built a Georgia Independent Schools Association baseball dynasty over the last four years, winning four straight GISA state titles.
And on this past Friday, the Cougars took the next step toward number five, as they swept Crisp Academy in the second round of the GISA state playoffs, 12-1 and 13-1, en route to the GISA semifinals Friday against Southwest Georgia Academy.
Game one started off perfectly for Piedmont as Wright took the mound and fanned the first three batters, foreshadowing his dominant afternoon.
The Cougars came up to bat inspired by Wright’s performance on the mound, and quickly put up two runs. Wright helped himself out as a hit-and-run double scored Tate Marks. Chase Porter followed him up with a hot shot double down the third base line, knocking in Wright.
The Piedmont half of the third broke the game wide open. The Cougars managed to score 10 runs in the inning, highlighted by a pair of two-RBI singles — one from Owen Brady and the other from Cameron Mobley, and a bases clearing three-RBI triple from Sam Wright.
Piedmont coach Wes Tanner said aggression was the key to this big inning.
“(We were) aggressive on the base paths, aggressive at the dish. We put a lot of balls in play,” Tanner said. “A lot of firm contact. When you put pressure on defense, an inning like that can happen.”
The long inning may have affected Wright’s arm as Crisp’s first batter singled, ending the no-hitter in the fourth. Composing himself, Wright managed to only give up one run in the inning despite allowing three baserunners.
Both offenses went stagnant the remainder of the game, allowing Piedmont to comfortably cruise on the way to a 12-1 game one win.
Wright talked about what it meant to take the ball in game one.
“It means a lot, to know my coaches trust me that much to pitch game one.”
Wright finished the game with eight strikeouts, and took a no-hitter into the fourth inning.
Wright’s pace-setting performance on the mound was invaluable to the team’s momentum, according to Tanner.
“It sets a great tone for us,” Tanner said. “To be able to start a game like that, right out of the gate, to set a quality tone and do what we asked him to do, its huge for our ball team.
“Winning game one is not everything because you got to win two of the three, but its huge to get the first one. But if you go out there and you’re not focused and you don’t do what you need to do, it doesn’t matter what game one does.”
Tanner’s Piedmont squad indeed remained focused in game two.
Wright was a tone-setter again in game two, but this time exclusively from the plate as he kept his impressive afternoon going with a two-RBI double in the top of the first. Zach Spivey followed him up with a towering sac fly to deep left field, scoring Wright.
After the top of the first, the Cougars were already up 3-0.
In the bottom of the third, Tate Marks took the mound and induced three groundouts to put down a quick 1-2-3 inning.
Piedmont put up three more runs in their half of the second, thanks to a pair of Marks and Wright RBI singles, and a Crisp Academy balk with the bases loaded.
In the bottom of the inning, Marks walked the first batter, but then forced another ground ball leading to a smooth 6-4-3 double play. After an infield pop-up, Marks continued to hold Crisp scoreless, and the Cougars led 6-0.
The Cougars’ half of the fourth inning displayed more of the same from Wright at the dish. Another rocket double down the third base line scored one more run. Zach Spivey followed him up with a RBI single, pushing their lead to 8-0.
In the bottom of the fourth, things got dicey for the Cougars. A couple of misplayed balls in the infield, and a pickoff attempt gone awry at first resulted in Crisp Academy’s first run of the game. But with two outs and runners on second and third, Marks forced a pop up to catcher Rob AllGood for the final out of the inning, limiting the damage to one run.
The Cougar’s bats heated back up in the top of the sixth as Allgood smoked a double off the left field fence, and Wright followed him up with a single to center field. Chase Porter knocked them both in with a two-RBI single, giving Piedmont a 10-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth.
Tate Marks found himself in another jam in the bottom of the sixth as a pair of walks, and in infield error forced the bases loaded with one out. He then went on to shut down the Crisp bats with two strikeouts, getting out of the inning unfazed.
Marks chalked up his composure in such situations to having been there, done that in high-stakes games.
“I have a lot of experience in the playoffs since eighth grade,” Marks said. “I just know what it feels like.”
Wright punctuated his impressive afternoon with a three-run bomb to deep left center field, to provide the game’s final margin. Wright ended the day 7-of-8 at the plate with 10 RBI and a home run in addition to his dominant pitching performance..
In the last half inning of the game, coach Tanner turned to Matthew Griffin to close out the ball game. Showcasing his nasty curve ball, Griffin forced three quick outs, shutting down the Crisp bats one last time.
Now, Piedmont (17-6-1) will host Southwest Georgia Academy Friday in a best-two-of-three series for a state championship berth.
Meanwhile, Tanner said he wasn’t concerned about all the program’s success making his squad unfocused or overconfident. When asked what helps the team keep its edge, Tanner smiled and offered up a simple response.
“It’s fun to win.”