SYLVANIA - Three times, Screven County came roaring back from behind. The Gamecocks dug themselves a two-run hole in the bottom of the ninth, but had enough left in the tank to pull out a 14-13 win over Swainsboro Tuesday night in Sylvania.
"It wasn't pretty, but we got the job done," said Screven coach Billy Pollock. "We fell behind a couple of times, but we kept fighting. That's Screven County baseball. We're never going to give up."
The Gamecocks had their work cut out for them early.
With two on and one out in the top of the first Rick McNeely lifted a high fly to center. Screven's Devin Lawton was there in time, but seemed to lose the ball in the sun as it skipped off his glove to bring Brian Hackel in with the game's first run.
Gamecock starter Dalton Mills notched a strikeout for the second out of the inning, but gave up an RBI single to Luke Kennedy and a bases-loaded walk to Dustin Kirkland.
Christopher Mills came in to relieve, surrendering a bases-loaded walk of his own to Kyle Henry before getting out of the inning.
Screven stormed back in the bottom half.
Still trailing 4-0 with one on and two outs, Daniel Griffin started the Gamecock rally. Griffin drew a walk and was followed by a bloop single off the bat of Auston Peel to bring home Dalton Mills. An infield single by Duane Heindel scored Griffin and a throwing error on a Heindel steal attempt allowed Peel to cross the plate before Joe Collins singled up the middle to knock in Heindel and tie the game after one inning of play.
Jonathan Long began the second inning on the mound for the Gamecocks and was immediately effective. The junior righty allowed just a walk and a single in his first two innings of work, but Tigers' starter Kyle Williams also settled down, needing only 15 pitches to get through the second and third innings.
Swainsboro seized control of the game in the fourth.
With one out, Lawton - who moved from centerfield to second base in the first inning - fired wide on a potential inning-ending double play to keep the inning going.
"(Lawton) had a couple of errors, but he was in a tough spot," said Pollock. "He moved from left, to center, to second all in one game with all of the pitching changes. He kept his head up though, and came through for us at the plate late in the game."
Cody McCumbers, Kennedy, Kirkland, Kyle Henry and Cody Farrow all took advantage of the Tigers' good fortune as each stroked a run scoring single to give Swainsboro a 9-4 advantage.
"We made some mistakes out in the field that really cost us," said Pollock. "I liked the way we handled the bats tonight, but the defense needs to improve. We can't give teams extra outs or they'll make us pay."
Screven once again attempted to respond with a rally in the bottom half.
With Lawton on first, Dalton Mills hit a line drive to left that was mishandled, allowing Lawton to score. Long added a sacrifice fly to drive in Mills, and - with the bases loaded later in the inning - a wild throw on a pickoff attempt brought in Chandler Johnson to make it a 9-7 Swainsboro lead.
The Tigers tacked on two more runs off of Daniel Griffin in the fifth that came in handy as Screven continued its comeback bid.
Long knocked in Anthony with an RBI single to make it 11-8, and a grounder by Johnson that should have ended the inning was thrown wide of first base, allowing Lawton and Long to score and bring Screven within a run.
One inning later, Joel Collins led off with a single and worked his way to third on a sacrifice bunt and a ground out. Dalton Mills worked a full count before lining a single to left that finally drew the Gamecocks even on the scoreboard.
"We got some big hits when we needed them," said Pollock. "When you fall behind in games, you just have to keep plugging away. We got runners on and swung at good pitches and we were able to get those runs back."
Neither team could push across a run in the seventh or eighth innings, but Swainsboro finally broke through in the ninth as McNeely led off with a single. Griffin would fan Cody McCumbers, but Kennedy blasted a triple to give the Tigers a lead once more. Kirkland then brought Kennedy home with a squeeze to make it 13-11.
Needing one more rally, Screven was able to respond.
Griffin led off with a single and advanced on a walk by Peel. Heindel then laid down a perfect bunt single to load the bases.
Swainsboro reliever Dustin Hodges was out of gas, but with no one left to bring in, he tried to soldier through. Hodges' command was gone though, and Collins, Anthony and Lawton all drew bases-loaded walks, the final one bringing Heindel in with the winning run.
"You hate to win taking walks like that, but that's how it happened tonight," said Pollock. "We went up there looking to take a strike, and we were patient enough to wait (Hodges) out when he started to struggle."
Screven gets right back to business tonight as the Gamecocks host Statesboro for a 6 p.m. matchup
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.