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Bulloch bounces back
Bulloch Academy first baseman Clayton Rogers, a sophomore, holds Christian Heritage's Chase Kranzlin close Saturday during Game 3 of a GISA Class AA state playoff game. The Gators won 9-2 to advance to the next round. - photo by RAHN HUTCHESON/Special to the Herald

          Facing a quick exit from the first round of the GISA Class AA baseball playoffs Saturday, Bulloch Academy’s players had no choice but to let it all hang out against their opponents, the Christian Heritage School Lions.

            The results were some of the best performances of the season as the Gators won back-to-back games to claim the best-of-three series and advance to the ‘Elite Eight’ of the tournament.
            “These guys did a great job,” said an elated head coach Daryl Evans after his squad took 5-2 and 9-2 victories over the visitors from Dalton. “I am very proud of them.”

            Bulloch (11-8) will travel to Chula next weekend for a three-game series with Tiftarea Academy, the top seed from Region 3. It’s the second straight year the Gators have advanced to the ‘Elite Eight’.

            Aggressive and timely hitting, super defensive plays and superior pitching all combined for the surprising doubleheader victory.

            After being limited to just one hit in Friday’s 8-3 loss, Bulloch pounded 20 hits Saturday, including two home runs. Infielders and outfielders alike ‘got dirty’ in their defensive play. The Gators committed just one error in the 14 innings. Pitchers Taylor Burke and Win Lee had complete games and performed well under pressure.

            “Everybody did their jobs,” said Evans. “Being at home was huge. We got a lot of positive support.”

            In Game Two, senior Matthew Sapp went 4-for-4 with two RBI, including a two-run homer, to lead Bulloch past CHS 5-2. Junior Win Lee also had a solo blast. Burke, a senior, allowed just four hits, striking out eight and walking seven. On Thursday, he was injured at practice, getting momentarily knocked out after a line drive hit him behind his right ear.

            In Game Three, the Gators pummeled three Christian Heritage pitchers for 11 hits as Bulloch won the rubber match 9-2. Lee scattered six hits through seven innings. He had five strikeouts, two walks and hit three batters.

            Sapp, Burke, senior Brian Atkinson, sophomore Clayton Rogers and freshman Loy Waters had two hits each. Sapp, the senior catcher who was injured in warm-ups in first game when a pitch bounced off the plate and struck him in the left ear, went 6-for-8 with three RBI on the day. Rogers, the BA first baseman, was 4-for-8 with five RBI.

            “Sapp had a great day at the plate,” said Evans, “but Clayton had two big, two-out hits and Win got us going on the day with his solo shot in the first game.”

            But it was the stellar defensive play of the Gators which seemed to break the backs of the Lions.

            “Bailey Smith and Loy Waters were huge,” Evans said of his freshmen infielders. Loy (at second base) got ate up by one ball but he turns around and turns a double play on the next ball. Bailey (at third base) made some great stops.”

            In Game Two, which began at 11 a.m., Bulloch took a 1-0 lead in the top of the opening inning as Lee drilled a 1-0 pitch into the trees in straightaway center field.

            In the third, Lee reached on a fielder’s choice. Sapp pounded a 3-1 pitch over the Lee, Hill and Johnston banner in left field for a 3-0 lead.

            The Lions, who end their season at 10-9, got one back in the bottom of the inning.

            In the fourth, the Gators had the bases loaded with no outs but only manage one run after good Lion defense and a questionable umpire decision on a dropped ball in the infield.

            Bulloch increased its lead to 5-1 in the top of the seventh. Sapp doubled to center and scored on Rogers’ single to right. CHS could only manage one in the bottom of the inning.

            Other highlights of Game Two included a diving stop and put out by shortstop Lee and Burke pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the third.

            In Game Three, the Lions took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first but the Gators rallied for two in the bottom of the frame. With two outs, Lee drew a walk and Sapp singled to right. Both advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Rogers’ single to right.

            Bulloch added two more in the second on hits from Waters and Burke, a Davis Howell walk and a Smith sacrifice bunt.

            BA scored four runs in the fourth for an 8-1 lead. In the inning, Burke doubled and both Rogers and Waters singled. Smith reached on an error while both Lee and Walker Blitch drew walks and Atkinson was hit by a pitch.

            The Gators went up 9-1 in the fifth on a Smith single, a Waters sacrifice bunt and Sapp’s run-scoring single.

            Other highlights of the game included Lee bearing down on batters after a rough first inning and heads-up base running and stellar glove-work by both Waters and Smith.

            “I want to thank our parents and supporters,” said Evans. “It was a long day for us but it was also a long day for them. We’ve had great support all year long and I hope to see them in Chula next week. I’d also like to thank my assistant coaches (Chad Huffman and Brian Bush). They graduated from Georgia Southern this morning and, rather than go celebrate with their friends and family, they came out here and helped coach. That’s true dedication.”