Baseball struggles have plagued Bulloch County this spring, and the private school down Westside Road has not been exempt from the turmoil.
However Saturday afternoon the Gators got the slumpbuster they so desperately needed since region play began when they split a doubleheader with Trinity-Dublin Saturday afternoon via a 9-3 loss in game one and a 12-9 win in game two. The 12-9 win over the Crusaders snapped a seven-game losing streak, dating back to March 14 when BA opened region play against Pinewood.
“We were in the first game the whole time,” said head coach Kyle Chambers. “And we played them close the first time we played them at their place, but it just took us believing in ourselves to finally pull out that second game.”
The region slate has been a frustrating path so far for BA. Prior to Saturday four of the six losses came by two runs or less and two of those four close games were lost on walk-off hits. To make matters worse, BA’s been put in such a hole they no longer control their own destiny when it comes to making the playoffs.
At 1-7 in the region, BA stands behind Edmund Burke — who’ve already ousted the Gators twice this season by scores of 10-8 and 5-4 on a walkoff hit. The Buccaneers are 2-6, meaning BA will not only have to beat EBA in their final meeting on April 19 but the Bucs will have to lose out the rest of their region schedule to give the Gators a fighting chance.
“Our goal is to not be the fifth team out of the four who’s sitting home come the postseason,” Chambers said. “I think this can be the game that spurs us upward for the rest of the season.”
At the very least the Gators gave themselves a breath of life Saturday in game two by beating Trinity after battling through a series of adversities starting all the way back in game one.
After falling behind 3-0 in the opening contest, BA got a two-run homer from the bat of Walker Hennon to cut the deficit to one run in the bottom of the third inning — then immediately got a double from Jad Street in the next at-bat who’d be singled in to tie the game by Nate Rice. Though the Gators would give up a run off a double-steal with runners on the corners in the next frame, Hennon’s arm kept the BA in the game until the final inning.
Hennon pitched six innings of game one, allowing five hits, four earned runs, one walk while striking out another six Crusaders. It wasn’t until a handful of errors in the top of the seventh that BA would see the game slowly slip out of reach.
Hennon gave up a single to start the seventh, but back-to-back errors by catcher Jake Nelson attempting to field sac bunts would start to open the floodgates to an eventual five-run seventh for Trinity. Even with new pitcher Brock Sapp in the game for BA, the Gators would see two walks, two hits and two fielder’s choice plays turn a one-run game into a six-run game in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
“I think for the most part our defense has pretty consistent this year,” Chambers said. “We’ll make some mistakes here and there, we just have to make sure they’re not crucial mistakes.”
Despite suffering another tough region loss, BA turned around and managed to fight tooth and nail with Trinity in game two. Three, two-out doubles by Rice, Sapp and Street would help BA post a five-spot in the bottom of the fourth — giving the Gators an 8-5 lead.
But in the top of the sixth more pitching woes began to creep up on BA, as another set of back-to-back errors would bring across two runs for Trinity to make it a 9-7 game. Following the errors BA would give up a deep double to right-centerfield to bring in two more runs and tie the game at nine runs apiece.
In the following frame Trinity would force the Gators into two quick outs, and had Trinity first baseman Blake Pervis had fielded a Nathan Rice ground ball correctly — BA might still be winless in region play. Alas Rice reached base safely on the aforementioned blunder, then Will Aaron would single on an 0-2 pitch to bring up his older brother Don.
The elder Aaron let three balls go by before connecting with a high-and-away fastball deep over the fences in right field to break the tie and put BA over the top 12-9 with one frame to play. Rice would come back to close out the top of the seventh in order to seal BA’s first region win of 2017.
“I think our real improvement over the past few games had been on offense,” Chambers said. “We’ve had numerous quality at-bats, so it’s really up to the pitching on whether or not we can win.”
Between the two games, it was Hennon who stood out the most on both sides of the dish. Along with his pitching performance in game one, who combined to go 4-8 at the plate with a home run, three RBI and three runs scored. Aaron went 5-9 with a homer, three RBI and two runs scored.
BA (5-8, 1-7) will take a one-game break from region play when they travel to play Augusta Prep (2-12, 0-7) Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.