SWAINSBORO — The Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets are moving past the first round of the state baseball playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades after sweeping a doubleheader from the Swainsboro Tigers Friday evening.
The Jackets (16-9) cruised to an easy 3-0 victory in the first game before rallying for a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to notch a 4-3 win and sweep the best-of-three series.
“That’s a couple of huge wins for us,” SEB coach Brandon Peterson said. “I felt like we did a great job of showing up ready to play. Swainsboro is a solid team, but we got some great pitching efforts and timely hitting all day.”
Drew Rushing was just short of perfect, going the distance and allowing just one hit as the Jackets took Friday’s opening game.
Rushing was perfect for the first three innings before a Tiger reached on an error. Stephen Gomez recorded the Tigers’ only hit in the fifth inning, but Rushing wasn’t phased and never allowed a runner to advance past second base while striking out eight and walking none.
Rushing dispatched the final seven batters to give the Jackets the series lead.
“We know that we want Drew on the hill,” Peterson said. “That’s the kind of effort he’s given us all year. Whenever he’s got the ball, this team knows that we have a good chance to win.”
Not content to dominate only on the mound, Rushing gave himself all of the offensive support he needed.
Keegan Carter was hit by Brock Hooks’ first offering of the game and advanced to third on two long fly outs. Rushing dug in and laced a single to bring in Carter for a 1-0 lead.
Jake Whitaker walked and came around to score in the fourth inning and Ryan Adams capped the scoring by blasting a Hooks fastball into the trees beyond the fence in left field.
With a chance to clinch the series in one day, freshman Bryce Harnage picked up right where Rushing left off.
The lefty breezed through two innings and was staked to a 1-0 lead, but Hooks tied the game with an RBI single in the top of the third. Two batters later, Bobby Andrews slapped a single to right to give Swainsboro its first lead of the day.
An error and another wild pitch brought in an unearned SEB run to make it 2-2 before the Tigers pressed ahead once more in the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly by Caleb Brown.
Carter finished the fifth inning for Harnage, but ran into trouble in the sixth.
With the bases loaded and one out, Swainsboro catcher Stone Logan whiffed on a suicide squeeze attempt and Brown was tagged out at home. Two pitches later, Carter notched the third out and the Jackets escaped without harm.
“Keegan is one of those kids who might like it better in a jam,” Peterson said. “He thrives on that pressure.”
With momentum on its side, SEB rallied in the bottom of the sixth.
Keith Stevens (6 IP, 7 K,) recorded the first out of the frame before Carter doubled to left. Tyler Epps singled home Carter and consecutive singles by Adams and Rushing brought Epps home for a 4-3 SEB advantage.
“Tyler is a guy you want up there in a big spot like that,” Peterson said. “He had a kind of tough day leading up to that, but he had a great at-bat and came through like we know he can.”
Carter left no doubt in the final frame.
Keith McCarty and Chapman Wilson were both called out on strikes and Brooks bounced out to push the Jackets into the next round.
SEB now must wait to see who is up next.
The Jackets will either host Rockmart or travel to top-seeded Pike County next week in another best-of-three series to determine which team will advance to the quarterfinals.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.