ELBERTON, Ga. — For almost a year now, the Social Circle Redskins aspired to win a state title. The Redskins got a step closer Thursday night by sweeping Elbert County and advancing to the Elite Eight.
Social Circle overcame Elbert County 8-7 in the first game and overpowered the Blue Devils 10-0 to complete the series win.
Head coach Kevin Dawkins recognized how special this year's group is.
“They play for each other, which is awesome,” Dawkins said. “They pick each other up. They truly are a family. I couldn’t be prouder of everything they’ve accomplished.”
Early in game one, the Redskins struggled. After the first five innings, they trailed 6-2. Then, thanks to a six-run, sixth inning, Social Circle regained its stride.
Ty Lemaster began the rally with an RBI double that scored Paul Kendall from first. Lemaster later advanced and scored on two passed balls.
With two outs, Logan Cross connected on an RBI single with Lucas Langley scoring. Then, Mitchell McCullough had an RBI double that Cross scored on.
Landon Harpe's RBI single that brought Will Atha — courtesy runner for McCullough — into score gave enough cushion to complete the comeback.
After giving credit to Elbert County's freshman ace Haven Adams, Dawkins explained what changed for his team in the sixth.
“We just needed that one break,” Dawkins said. “It was one of those things that they didn’t try and do too much. They weren’t sitting here trying to hit the big home run. They were trying to stay within themselves, keep that approach and keep moving. And it worked out for us.”
Elbert County kept things interesting in the bottom of the seventh. It narrowed Social Circle's lead to a run and had the bases loaded with one out.
Atha, who came in relief of Caden Richardson, got the second out of the inning with a strikeout. But the final out of the game required some heroics.
Elbert County's Brant Brady grounded a ball to Cross at first base. After collecting the hit, Cross had to rush over to get the out.
So, Cross extended his 6-foot-6 body to beat Brady out at first base.
Dawkins highlighted that moment as one to showcase how hungry this year's squad is to win it all.
“You can expect that from anybody,” Dawkins said. “They have such an intense passion to win and play for one another. You get the personal glory, but I truly think they just want to win for one another. They love what’s across the front of their jersey and they play for that. They love this school and this community and want to make these people proud.”
Social Circle carried its momentum from game one's ending into the final game of the afternoon.
Luke Smith was the first to assert the Redskins' dominance in game two. From the get go, the junior took control of the game from the mound and kept the Blue Devils' offense on ice.
Smith pitched a complete game, no-hitter, which also featured 12 strikeouts.
Smith’s performance wasn’t too shabby for a player who was on the junior varsity squad a year ago.
“It’s something that’s been there the entire year,” Dawkins said. “His stuff has been there and he’s thrown really good games for us throughout the year. Anytime you throw a no-hitter in the Sweet Sixteen is a really good game. The kid has a bright future.”
Additionally, Social Circle's offense stepped up in a big way to punch its ticket to the next round.
In fact, Mason Moore delivered a big blow in the final inning followed by McCullough's knockout punch.
Leading 5-0 in the top of the sixth inning, Moore came to the plate with two base runners on. Two pitches into his at-bat, Moore brought those baserunners home with a three-run shot to right field.
Three batters later, McCullough drilled a two-run, walk-off homer over the centerfield fence. McCullough's home run was shortly removed from his first career bomb a few weeks ago.
His second career homer, though, put Thursday's playoff series to bed and sent Social Circle to the next round.
Social Circle rushed home plate in celebration as its journey toward a state title lives on.
The Redskins' next opponent is to be determined on Friday between Bleckley and Lamar counties.
No matter the opponent, Dawkins believes game No. 2's ending is the perfect segway to the Elite Eight.
“For Mason, it’s par for the course. He’s been doing that all year,” Dawkins said. “For Mitchell, to now have two home runs in a 2-3 week span is pretty phenomenal. It just speaks to the passion he has and the work he’s put in.
“I can’t say enough about how proud I am of these guys about what they’ve done and what they continue to do. This is a special group.”