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May 17, 2014

Panthers return to final four after sweep

CHULA —  It was a tale of two differently played games Saturday afternoon. The Tiftarea Panthers first saw themselves in an offensive battle against the Dominion Christian Knights. After that went their way, 13-4, the second game was a defensive one and the Panthers won that battle, too, 4-2 to complete the sweep.

Tiftarea now enters the GISA Class AAA final four, a spot they have not seen since they were AA runners up in 2010.

Luckily for Tiftarea they had Taylor Folsom on the hill. He struck out nine and allowed just three hits. Things did not start out that way, though. Dorian Jenkins led off with a walk and a sacrifice attempt by C.J. Copeland saw everyone end up safe. Folsom struck out his first man, but when Luke Lewallen grounded to second, an attempt to get the double play resulted in a wild throw to first, scoring a run.

The Panthers only found themselves in a hole for a few minutes, however.

Noah McMinn drilled a one-out single that turned into two bases. McMinn had been aiming for two coming around the bag, but slipped down on the dirt. Dominion attempted to throw behind him and seeing that, he decided to risk an extra base and made it. Greer Howard worked a walk as the next man up. Both moved up one on a wild pitch and with two outs, it was up to John Thomas Tanner to make some magic.

Tanner grounded to deep second and barely beat the throw as the first baseman scrambled to his spot. McMinn scored and while the Knights were collecting themselves, Howard also sped towards the plate and slid in under the tag to give his team a 2-1 lead.

Folsom settled down once he returned to the mound. Dominion would get their first hit in the 2nd and earned a walk in the 3rd, but would not see base again until Lewallen's infield single in the 6th.

Insurance would not come for the Panthers until the 6th. Howard walked, went to second on a wild pitch and was sacrificed over by Zach Beier. Tanner also walked, bringing up pinch hitter Rhett Rycroft. That's when the Knights unleashed another wild pitch, plating Howard and moving Tanner (who previously stole second) over. The latter scored on Rycroft's groundout.

It was a tough outing for Dominion's Riley Howard, who only allowed three hits, two by McMinn and one by Tanner.

A week after scoring 23 runs against Augusta Prep, offense was again the key as the series opened and Tiftarea did not mess around. So sparked were the Panthers' hitters that only once did they fail to start an inning with a hit.

The pivotal moment might have come when leadoff man Rob Flick singled in the bottom of the 1st. That started a 4-run rally off Dominion's starter Copeland, which saw the six of the first seven men reach.

Marlowe, Spurlin and McMinn provided the other three runs off a bases loaded walk by McMinn, a throwing error, a single by Beier and a sac fly by Tanner.

The lead reached 5-0 — Flick scored on a wild pitch in the second — before the Knights were able to get one of their own when Dorian Jenkins trotted in on a bases loaded walk by Bo Vickers. It was momentarily a close game when they tacked on two more in the 4th.

Now 5-3, the Panthers promptly put some distance between the teams. Eleven men went to the plate and six of them scored. The first five men supplied four singles and a double that counted for four men crossing the plate. The two big blows came from Marlowe, who doubled in Tanner and Ethan Bryant and Devin Paulk, whose single brought in Flick and Marlowe. Paulk and McMinn provided the last two runs.

The Knights added one in the 5th, but Tiftarea was not quite finished and scored their last two in the bottom half.

Bryant replaced Vickers in the 5th. Each Panther pitcher was responsible for four strikeouts.

The top of the order was especially deadly for the hosts. Batters 1-5 combined for 10 hits and 11 of the 13 runs.

The Panthers will host either Brookwood or Stratford Academy in the semifinals.

 

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20140726 John Gamble.JPG

John Gamble (right) is joined by John Reid at the Tiftarea YMCA Saturday.

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