Athens has Chapel Hill in Jam with 5-4 Game 1 Win
JACKSONVILLE -- Athens' 5-4 win against Chapel Hill to open its Class 3A postseason was full of drama and sets up a very interesting opportunity later today.
Game 1 of this particular three-game bi-district series featured four lead changes with the Hornets breaking a 4-3 Chapel Hill lead with one out in their final batting frame.
"It was a battle all the way to the end," Athens skipper Dallas Robertson said. "We've been preparing for this. It's just never over till it's over. Now we've got to get focussed on Game 2. Winning Game 1 is big, but it's a series for a reason."
Chapel Hill opted to start Braden Nelson at pitcher rather than University of Houston commitment Pat Day in Game 1.
The Bulldogs' plan was, if Nelson could serve up a win Thursday, Day could pitch for the sweep at 7 p.m. today in Jacksonville after spending Game 1 in center field.
But Day still gives Chapel Hill the opportunity to even the series and force a Game 3 on Saturday.
"We've worked on facing guys with high velocity like that," Robertson said. "If we do what we've done in practice and take it to the game and just compete -- He's a dang good pitcher, we all know that, he's going to be throwing it hard in there. We've just got to stay focused on what we do best and that's just putting it in play."
Base running is the Hornets' offensive staple. Once the hits started coming, the club did most of its damage by advancing runners from first base to third on simple hits.
Michael Conales got the ball rolling Thursday with a bunt single in the bottom third, the Hornets' first of six hits. He's a speedy middle infielder and gives Athens a nice one-two punch when he's on base and leadoff hitter Garrett Conley backs him up.
It helped the Hornets battle back from a 1-0 deficit for a 4-2 lead before the Bulldogs responded with three runs in the top fifth.
Conales batted 2-for-2 and added a walk in three plate appearances. He cut a 4-2 Chapel Hill lead to 4-3 with a leadoff base hit in the bottom of the fifth, ran out the defense's preference to catch him at second base on a fielder's choice, advanced on a fly ball to deep left field and then was batted home by Travis Takata's two-out triple.
The Hornets threw a strong sixth inning with Conley on the mound. The pitcher allowed a one-out walk in the frame then rallied to knock down the next two Bulldogs batters without consequence.
Athens chased Chapel Hill's Nelson in the bottom sixth with a one-out walk and defensive fielding error. Nelson threw 75 pitches.
The Bulldogs' third baseman Andrew Black came in as the relief pitcher and quickly forced the second out of the inning. Unfortunately for him, it was a middle-range fly ball from Josh Darden which scored Jesse Taylor to tie the game.
Darden stole second base and advanced to third on a wild pitch. A second wild pitch from Black scored Darden before the reliever closed the inning with a strikeout.
Conley's seventh strikeout closed the game in the top seventh. Athens' starter threw 106 pitches and allowed nine hits on the way to a complete game win.
"It wasn't a pretty game by me," Conley said. "We got the job done. I can't do anything but thank my teammates for their defense and getting the hits when we needed to."
Athens 5, Chapel Hill 4
Class 3A Region II Bi-District Playoff Series -- Game 1
At Jacksonville High School
Chapel Hill 100 030 0 -- 4 7 4
Athens 000 212 X -- 5 6 0
Pitchers and catchers
- Chapel Hill: Braden Nelson, Andrew Black (6) and Hudson Mahaffey.
- Athens: Garrett Conley and Brandon Boyd.
WP -- Conley.
LP -- Nelson.
- Chapel Hill: Peyton Richardson.
- Athens: Lance Funkhouser.
- Athens: Travis Takata.