Athens Baseball Gets Over Playoff Hump + Eliminates Van
TYLER -- It wasn't a state championship celebration. It wasn't just the regular season high five circuit, either.
Athens put away two years of bad playoff memories Friday in its 6-1 victory against Van in a Class 4A one-game, bi-district playoff series at Mike Carter Field. The win came at the same site last year's promising season crashed down with a measly loss in another one-game, opening round setting.
"I am so proud of the fact that, you know, 'Here we go again,'" Hornets skipper Dallas Robertson said after ending a long postgame speech. "We lose another coin flip and have to go back to a one game. But these boys didn't want any other place. They wanted to come back here. It was big to get over the hump there."
Before each playoff series -- until the state semifinal round of competition -- the two competing teams get to decide whether they want to play a best-of-three or one-game series. Squads that win the pre-series coin toss and know they are the underdog generally opt for a one-game situation, hoping to catch the breaks for a win.
Athens ranked ninth in the state immediately after winning the District 13-4A championship last season and fell to a fourth-seeded Canton squad in one game.
However, the area round drought began two years ago when the program blew a 1-0 series lead against Chapel Hill.
Today, the Hornets (20-6) are alive and well. They're awaiting the winner of the Gilmer-Paris series in the area round as District 13-4A champions once again and now, finally, bi-district champions.
Van, the fourth seed from District 14-4A, bowed out with a final record of 11-15.
The Vandals put aboard at least one runner in the top half of each inning, but they didn't manufacture any runs until after Athens built a 6-0 advantage though four innings of play.
Hornets senior starting pitcher Brandon Boyd went the full distance on 107 pitches. He allowed six hits and 10 total runners to eight strikeouts but never really teetered under pressure.
Contrarily, Van bent when Athens broke up a no-hitter in the third inning and caved in the bottom fourth en route to giving up six hits in the contest.
Eight-hole hitter Casey Pitchford stopped the no-no in its tracks with a liner through the left gap and was batted in by Landon Bynum with two outs and runners at the corners.
Athens batted around the order its next time up. Five runs scored on three hits, two errors and a wild pitch.
"They were keeping us off-balance and they made some plays," Robertson said. "We hit some shots earlier. But I think we felt like something was going to happen in that inning. We had great base running."
Van answered in the fifth with Brett Doring's two-out, bases loaded sacrifice groundout to plate Casey Morrow. Boyd knocked down the next batter on four pitches to end the threat.
Boyd also got out of giving up a leadoff hit in the sixth thanks to a 2-4 putout on a stolen base attempt and then delivered a game-ending strikeout in the seventh with men at first and second base.
Paris pitcher Phillip Sikes tossed a one-hitter against Gilmer in Game 1 of those two teams' best-of-three series. He struck out 14 batters along the way in a 4-0 victory to get his side within a game of facing the Hornets.
Athens, which defeated Paris earlier in the season by a score of 2-1 and has not played Gilmer, will attend the remainder of that series today in Atlanta.
"This is great," Boyd said. "I've gone to playoffs three years now and this is the first year. I'm just psyched about it and can't wait for the second round."
Athens 6, Van 1
Class 4A Bi-District Playoff Game
At Mike Carter Field, Tyler
Van 000 010 0 -- 1 6 2
Athens 001 500 X -- 6 6 0
Pitchers and catchers
- Van: Robbie Davis, Sean Beasley (4) and Brett Doring
- Athens: Brandon Boyd and Peyton Brewer
- WP -- Boyd
- LP -- Davis