Thursday’s games at Mill Creek Regional Park were postseason games imperative to Statesboro’s state playoff hopes, but the Blue Devils breezed through the challenge as if they were throwaway preseason scrimmages.
Facing Hephzibah in the first round of the Region 3-AAAA tournament, the Devils (18-5) swept a doubleheader from the Rebels to win the best-of-three series.
Both games were brought to an early end in the fifth inning via mercy rule as Statesboro won the first game by a count of 15-0 and won clinched the series with a 14-0 blowout win.
With the series win, Statesboro clinched a spot in the Class AAAA state playoffs for a second consecutive season and will play in the region semifinals next week.
“We feel really good about today,” SHS coach Jim Simmons said. “We’re proud of the fact that we did what we had to do to get a No. 1 seed and put ourselves in the position to play Hephzibah. Today, we came out and did what we had to do. A lot of guys got a chance to play and we’re happy to be moving on.”
Due to the mercy rule bringing both games to an early end, Statesboro only batted in eight innings and managed to score in all but one of the frames.
The Devils took advantage of walks, wild pitches, and a total of 26 hits — all singles and doubles — to do their damage on the scoreboard.
Hephzibah’s Darryl Hammond retired the first two SHS batters he faced in the first game before running into trouble as a single by Blakely Brown launched a two-run rally.
Statesboro struck for four more in the second inning and were well on their way to scoring five runs in the third inning when Brandon Breuer came on in relief.
Not missing a beat, the Devils plated four runs in the bottom of the fourth — capped off with the last of Jordan Finch’s four RBIs — to put the first game on ice.
In the second game, Hephzibah’s Steven Justice held the Devils scoreless in the first inning before allowing an RBI single to Chris Reagin in the second.
Statesboro blew the game open with six runs in the third frame.
Brown recorded the only extra base hit of the frame with a double down the left field line, but SHS was able to bleed out the runs with RBI singles by Reagin, Clay Reed, Jacob Schofill, Colin Chance, a sacrifice fly by Mahlon Williams, and an RBI groundout by Jordan Finch.
The barrage continued in the fourth inning as the Devils converted six singles and three walks into seven more runs and an overwhelming lead.
Finch started the series opener and allowed just one hit in three innings of work.
Wil Stuart relieved Finch and pitched a scoreless fourth inning to bring the first game to a premature end.
Chance started the second game and surrendered a leadoff single to Justice, but was otherwise dominant, striking out four in his two innings of work. Brown pitched two innings of scoreless relief and Carter Harrison capped off the series with a scoreless fifth inning.
“I liked the way all of our guys threw the ball today,” Simmons said. “Everyone was effective and everyone will still be fresh for our next series. That’s exactly how we wanted to come out of this.”
Wayne County swept its doubleheader against Burke County and will take on Statesboro in a doubleheader April 22.
If necessary, a decisive third game will be played Wednesday, April 23.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.