Leaving runners in scoring position can prove costly, and Thursday night it did for the Statesboro Blue Devils who were unable to take advantage of numerous opportunities. Eventually the visiting Whitewater Wildcats made them pay, eliminating the Blue Devils from the state playoffs with a 3-0 win Thursday at Mill Creek Park in the third game of their first round series.
“Bradley Gronefeld pitched a heck of a game for us,” said Statesboro coach Jim Simmons. “They put a quality ball in play in the gap, and we just weren't able to glove it. We also left a lot of runners in scoring position, and that came back to haunt us.”
The two teams split on Wednesday, setting up a third and decisive game on Thursday. The Blue Devils lost a coin toss, and were the visitors on Thursday.
The Blue Devils actually had twice as many hits as the Wildcats — 6-3 — and unlike Wednesday’s second game in which Statesboro had six errors, Thursday they had only one, but unfortunately it proved costly.
Statesboro pitcher — senior Bradley Gronefeld — kept the Wildcats at bay for most of the game entering the sixth inning with a no-hitter. With one out in the sixth Dylan Morris hit a fly ball to the gap in left center. Blue Devil centerfielder Will Yawn sprinted toward the ball, which was blowing toward left field, and stumbled as the ball bounced off his glove and fell to the ground.
The Wildcats capitalized as the next batter Landon Busby,hit a ground ball just inside fair territory that rolled to the fence, allowing Morris to get to third. Gronefeld then hit Chris Buchanan loading the bases for Matthew Morgano who, with the infield in, hit a two-run single up the middle for a 2-0 Whitewater lead.
Still in the sixth, Zach Leischner came through with an RBI double to left, extending the lead to 3-0.
“You have to tip your cap to the guys in the meat of the lineup for Whitewater,” Simmons said. “The guys who were seeing Bradley for the third or fourth time, they adjusted their swings and shortened up, and made contact.”
Statesboro had multiple opportunities to score, especially early in the game. The Blue Devils left a runner on second in the first inning. They left another runner on second in the second inning, and in the third they stranded a runner on third.
The Blue Devils were led offensively by J.D. Kaiser who went 2-3 including a double. Dake Williams also went 2-3 with a double for Statesboro. Jackson Proctor and Drake Horton had the other two Blue Devil hits.
Gronefeld — who was playing in what turned out to be his final high school game — went six innings allowing three unearned runs while striking out four. Whitewater’s Dylan Morris went seven scoreless innings on the mound for the Wildcats with four strikeouts, and no walks.
“I told these young men after the game, they have done a tremendous job moving this program forward,” Simmons said. “These seniors are going to leave some big shoes to fill. I feel like we have a lot of talent coming back, but we will definitely miss these seniors.”
The Blue Devils end the season with a record of 17-16 and hosted their first state playoff game since 2009.