Defense comes up big as Tiftarea takes 1-0 lead in finals
MACON - Tiftarea Academy moved one step closer to the GISA Class AAA championship Friday, holding on to defeat Pinewood Christian, 5-3.
Game two is set for Saturday at 4 p.m. at Mercer University. Should Pinewood win, the deciding game will follow.
Hayden Murphy allowed just five hits in a complete game victory, with much credit going to his defense. The Panthers were spotless behind him, including big plays by Jam Presley and John Austin Lee.
Presley made throws from deep shortstop to throw out runners, the last one having scooted past third baseman Levi Stanfill, which saddled the Patriots with two outs in the top of the seventh. Only a minute earlier Lee twisted and turned all over left field before making a catch near the warning track.
The contest was essentially one of two halves; Tiftarea struck for two runs in the first and three more in the fourth. All of Pinewood's tallies came in the fifth.
Patriots' starting hurler Jax Lewis was in trouble early on. Tiftarea loaded the bases in the second, third and fourth frames, but twice he pitched his way out of danger.
Four straight singles in the first led to a quick 2-0 Panthers lead.
The rally started with Jayk Sailer hitting a single to center and he moved up a bag on a steal. Brock Hammond singled in Sailer and Logan Moore poked a base hit to left, but the Patriots picked up their second out catching a runner trying to make third.
Ben Matt singled up the middle, driving in Moore.
Lee, Presley and Murphy filled the sacks with one out in the second, but a strikeout and flyout meant the score remained 2-0.
Lee walked with two outs in the third, joining Stanfill and Matthew Malone, but were scoreless again after a fly to short.
Finally, they broke through in the fourth after Murphy led off with a double over the right fielder's head. Sailer bunted for a hit and Hammond reached on an error. Moore stepped in with a two-RBI hit, bringing the score to 4-0.
Matt hit a second single, scoring Hammond.
Tiftarea was rolling at that point, but the Patriots were not going to make it easy.
Josh Rogers, the first man up in the fifth, tripled in the gap. After Grayson Swindell walked, Parker Deal gave Pinewood their first run on a single
Presley threw out Mic Wasson on a deep grounder, but it was enough to bring in Swindell. They drew even closer on Gabe Edwards' hit that drove in Deal.
Pinewood had three runners on in the sixth, but an alert play by Matt to throw out a runner at second likely prevented another run.
Lewis settled down after his early struggles. Only one Tiftarea player had a hit in the final two innings.
Sailer, Moore, Matt and Lee had two hits apiece. Murphy struck out eight.