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By RUSSELL TURNER | Herald Editor
The Greene County Wildcats took care of business on the road in Summit Tuesday night, defeating North Pike 6-3 to take a 1-0 lead in the teams’ best-of-three round one playoff series.
It wasn’t the cleanest game for the Wildcats after an unusual week-long break, but a big win nonetheless.
“I think going seven days without playing made us a little rusty,” said GCHS skipper Nick Chatham. “We definitely didn’t play our best game, but I really think our experience in both the postseason and in big games against big teams helped us.”
“Anytime you can steal one on the road that’s a plus.”
The Wildcats were actually out-hit by the home team, but got big hits when they counted the most, beginning with their first two plate appearances of the night. GCHS got back-to-back doubles from senior Collin Pipkins and junior Brycen ‘B.J.’ Johnson to start the game and took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. The Wildcats added a run in all but one of the next six innings, and with Pipkins dealing another gem on the mound, rolled to the game one win.
Pipkins left the game after getting two outs in the sixth inning. He scattered eight hits, but kept control of the game with 13 strikeouts. A walk and two singles allowed North Pike to tie the game at 1-1 in the first inning, but Pipkins put up zeroes over the next four innings as GCHS took a 5-1 lead. After striking out the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the sixth, Pipkins ran into his only real trouble of the night. Two walks, a single and a passed ball closed the gap to 5-2. Sophomore Landon Green came in to relieve Pipkins and got a ground ball that could have ended the inning, but a fielding error allowed a second Panther run to score. Green got the next batter to ground out to junior second baseman Peyton Errington, but North Pike had made it a 5-3 game and had momentum on their side for the first time of the game.
Senior Phillip Herring took care of that issue though, stealing back the mojo with his fifth home run of the season, a solo shot to start the seventh inning. Herring drew a 3-0 count to start the at-bat, but Chatham gave him the green light to swing and didn’t regret it. Herring fouled the fourth pitch he saw straight back. The next two pitches sailed well past the outfield fence but foul. He left no doubt on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, crushing a shot over the left fielder’s head to give his team a 6-2 margin.
Green gave up a single in the bottom of the seventh, but struck out two Panthers and got another groundout to Errington to end the game and earn the save.
“Playoff baseball is always a much bigger stage and Collin did what he always does and gave us a chance to win,” Chatham said. “Big Phil (Herring) had a couple of really good at-bats, including the one to start the seventh inning that ended in a home run.”
“We also had some youngsters who had some good at bats in Cole Helton and Landon Green.”
Pipkins earned the win on the mound and due to pitch-count rules will be available for GCHS if needed for a potential game three. He also had a big night at the plate, going 2-for-3 with two doubles, two RBIs and a run scored.
Johnson and Herring each had RBIs, while Helton had a double, an RBI and two runs scored. Green finished 2-for-3 at the plate and drove in a run with a 2-out single in the third.
The Wildcats will host game two of the series on Friday, with first pitch set for 7 p.m. A win by the Cats will push them into a round two matchup with winner of the Sumrall – Richland series, which Sumrall leads 1-0 after a 10-0 win over the Rangers on Tuesday.
If the Panthers can steal back a road win on Friday, they will host the Wildcats again on Saturday in a deciding game three. First pitch in that scenario would be at 2 p.m. in Summit.
Chatham said he is hoping for another great atmosphere on the GCHS campus on Friday.
“We are looking forward to playing at home on Friday,” he said. “I hope our fans come out and give us that home field advantage that we need.”
Wildcats hosting Future’s Night on Friday …
Friday night’s matchup at Scott Bray Field is being dubbed Future’s Night at GCHS. Youth league players in uniform will get in the game for free and have the opportunity to go onto the field with the Wildcats during pre-game introductions.