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By RUSSELL TURNER
The Greene County Wildcats defeated Quitman in convincing fashion on Monday, claiming their second consecutive Game 3 in a best-of-three series to advance in the state playoffs.
Not only does the 13-3 win over the Panthers set up a big third round matchup with powerhouse Sumrall later this week, getting it in front of raucous Scott Bray Field crowd was great medicine for the Cats after a disappointing 2-1 loss in extra innings Saturday night at Quitman.
“It feels great to win another Game 3,” GCHS Head Coach Nick Chatham said. “Quitman put us to the test, but we were able to come out on top in the series.”
The Wildcats claimed game one on Friday with a big sixth inning explosion on their home field. They were trailing 3-2 going into the inning, but erupted for seven runs in the sixth to win 9-4. They lost game two at Quitman on Saturday as the Panthers made plays to keep the game close and then came up with the big hit at the end to win it in eight innings. But, they left no doubt on Monday, pounding out 15 hits to win 13-3 in six innings.
While the hitting came in spurts, pitching continued to be pretty consistent for the Wildcats.
“Our pitching has been good throughout the playoffs,” Chatham said. “Everybody has really settled into their role. “
“We know that our starters are going to give us a good outing, that’s good to know. We know that Brayden Brewer is going to come in relief and give us good innings. Bunkie Henderson stepped up huge for us in two Game 3 situations to seal the series.”
In Game 1, junior Collin Pipkins earned the win on the mound for GCHS. Pipkins missed a complete game win by one out and scattered seven hits across the six and two-thirds innings he pitched. He finished with eight strikeouts, compared to four walks.
West was unwavering through seven innings on Saturday as he gave up eight hits, but worked his way out of trouble on multiple occasions and benefitted from a nearly spotless defensive effort from his teammates. He finished with five strikeouts and three free passes.
Monday’s game plan worked out just like Chatham had hoped with Henderson giving his team four and a third innings of solid pitching. He left the game with a 9-2 lead after giving up just three hits, while striking out five. Brewer finished out the final five outs to earn the save.
At the plate, Chatham got production throughout the lineup. In Game 1, Pipkins, West, and senior catcher Jace Lott led the way. Lott had three Hits and an RBI, while Pipkins and West each drove in two runs. But, the Cats also saw a big boost from the guys at the other end of the lineup, like junior Luke Barfield who homered and senior Parker Errington, who scored both times he reached base.
GCHS was held to just seven hits in Game 2 and three of those came from sophomore designated hitter Izayah Jordan. And, while Errington did not get a hit, he did drive in the Cats’ only run with a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning that scored senior Ethan Roberts, who had reached on an error and advanced to third on a single by Jordan.
But, in Game 3, everyone came alive. Barfield, Lott and West each had three hits and two RBIs on the night. West’s inside-the-park home drove in Brewer and senior Cameron Dunnam to put the Cats ahead 3-0. Pipkins was solid again with two hits, including a 2-run double. Roberts and Jordan had two hits apiece, with Roberts scoring twice and Jordan driving in two runs. Barfield had three hits and two RBIs and Errington had a hit and three walks, reaching base every time he went to the plate and scoring on two of those opportunities.
“We did get a big spark from the bottom of our lineup,” Chatham said. “That’s huge because that is something we were not getting early in the season.”
“Parker Errington is finding ways to get on base and that is huge. What we have really done is cut down on our strikeouts over the last half of the season. Our guys do a great job of battling with two strikes.”
Chatham also got a great effort from his pinch runners in the series, with Dunnam scoring three runs and senior Keaton Hollinghead and sophomore Brycen Johnson each scoring twice.
“As far as the pinch runners go, I would venture to say we use them more than any team,” Chatham said. “Having that speed and instinct coming off the bench has scored us a lot of runs this year. Most people don’t realize how important those guys are to what we do.”
Sumrall next up for Wildcats
The win puts the Cats on a collision course with one of the top prep teams in the country in the Sumrall Bobcats. Undefeated on the season at 29-0, Sumrall powered through Region 7-4A and beat Moss Point and Mendenhall by a combined total margin of 49 runs during their first four games of the postseason.
The Bobcats are no joke, but Chatham doesn’t agree with the David versus Goliath analogy and is taking his team into the series with the belief that his Cats have what it takes to advance once again.
“I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment of this matchup,” Chatham said of the Biblical analogy. “We are very familiar with Sumrall. We were in the district the last several years and we played them early in the year and hung in there with them as good as anybody has.”
“I don’t feel at all as if it is an impossible hill to climb. I like our team as much as anybody’s.”
Chatham took it one step further, saying he believes the first two rounds have created a situation where GCHS could have an advantage going in to the series.
“I say that for the simple fact that we have been having to scratch and claw to make it through the first two rounds, while they have outscored their opponents 57-6 in the first two rounds,” Chatham added. “I think that bodes well for us.
“They haven’t had to execute the way we have had to in the first two rounds. We have had to make big pitches in big spots. We have had to get timely hits. We have had to defend late game squeezes. We have had to play infield in. So, in saying that, if we can get in a tight game with them, I feel we actually have the advantage.”
It promises to be an electric series as both teams have fan bases that show up to support their teams and both have unique environments to play in at home. Chatham has made no bones about how important he believes fan support has been for his team and is hoping to have the biggest crowd of the year when the Bobcats visit for Game 2. That is scheduled for Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Game 1 will be on Friday at Sumrall with first pitch set for 7 p.m. Game 3, if needed, will be back at Sumrall on Monday, also at 7 p.m..