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May 13, 2014

Hitting, pitching duel in Berrien-GAC split

NASHVILLE — The elite eight in the state baseball tournament features some of the best teams in Georgia with some of the best talent. The two games of the series between the Berrien Rebels and Greater Atlanta Christian Spartans certainly held up that standard as they featured a pitching duel one game and a slugfest in the other. Berrien took game one, 2-1, but missed a chance to sweep the series when the Spartans returned with a 6-4 victory in the nightcap. The two will meet up again today at 4 p.m. to decide who goes to the semifinals.

For seven innings of the opener, Ashton Sparks of Berrien and Justin Lewis of GAC battled to give their school the upper hand in the best of three series. In the end, it was Sparks who reigned supreme in a tight 2-1 contest.

Lewis only surrendered three hits over the span of two innings and had the home team no hit for five frames. His streak ended with two outs in the 6th and that would prove to be the Spartans' undoing.

Clay Trowell coaxed a walk to lead off that inning, but Berrien's attempt to play small ball almost ended in disaster as he was nipped at second on Brandon Luke's bunt attempt. Luke was safe, but seemed destined to stay at first when Caleb Rowland popped to right for the second out.

Their luck would change when Dalton Ingram doubled. Luke was held up at third, but with Taylor Griner in the box, Lewis uncorked a wild pitch and he was able to slide in ahead of the tag. Griner then followed with a single and Ingram was able to trot in for the second run.

Sparks retired his next three men in order, but the Spartans gave him plenty of anxious moments in their last at bat.

Lewis grounded to short, but was safe on a low throw. Connor Joseph took over as the courtesy runner and advanced to second on a groundout by Peyton McGuire, then to third on a stolen base. He scored on Devin Daugherty's one-out single. That put the tying run at first and GAC brought in Andrew Schultz to run for Daugherty. He would be left there when Sparks rallied for a flyout and a groundout that ended the game.

The Spartans had opportunities early in the game, but grounded into a double play in the first after a leadoff single by Harry Kerr. Another leadoff single, this one by Lewis in the 2nd, resulted in a caught stealing. Lucas Boudreau advanced as far as second in the 3rd, but GAC would not have any more men in scoring position until the 7th.

Sparks finished with two strikeouts while holding his opponent to four hits. Berrien's other hit was by Codi Fender.

Berrien started off the 4th inning of game two having difficulties with the sun. Then, they had problems with Greater Atlanta Christian's bats.

Up 4-0, Stephen Powell got Lewis to ground to third and McGuire to fly to left, but both times the Rebels lost the ball in the sun and the runners were safe. Those two runners would come back to haunt them as Daugherty blasted a home run over the left field fence. The bases now being clear failed to slow them down. Conner Joseph and Boudreau singled.

Powell got two quick outs on a sacrifice and strikeout, but could not close the door on the rally. Jackson O'Brien took his pitch to the same spot at Daugherty and GAC was now staked to a 6-4 lead.

Berrien had knocked starter Ben Childers out of the game in their half of the 4th, but replacement Jack McLaughin was more than up to the task. He worked 3.1 innings of three-hit ball. The Rebels were able to get a man into scoring position once, but that was with two outs. Cole Garrett gave them a brief spark in the 7th with a single, but Fender grounded into a game-ending double play.

At one time in the game, they had the clear advantage. They got a run off Childers in the 3rd when Clay Trowell's walk came around to score on a single by Ingram.

The inning that vanished Childers from the game was a small ball effort. Garrett singled and consecutive attempts to move him up a bag by Fender and McCranie resulted in a miscue by the pitcher and everyone being safe.  Garrett went around to third on the first and came home on the second. With runners at first and second,  the Spartans were able to induce two outs, but Trowell who had replaced McCranie on base after a fielder's choice, stole second. Caleb Rowland singled to right and the extra base meant two runs scored.

Powell left the game after the 4th, McCranie pitching the final two innings.

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