CHULA — The opening game of the GISA state semifinals between the Tiftarea Academy Panthers and Stratford Academy Eagles was tight.
Two swings of the bat by Cade Marlowe would be the difference in the game. Tiftarea was up a run in the 4th when he blasted a ball over the tall centerfield fence. They were tied when he came up in the 6th. He delivered a two-run moon shot this time, one that put the Panthers up for good.
They went on to win game one 7-5 and then removed all doubt as they took a shortened 11-0 victory in game two that advanced them to the state finals.
Neither team had lost in the playoffs going into the semifinal battle. It was Tiftarea who blinked first. Starter Taylor Folsom gave up three straight singles in the 1st. The last one, by Douglas Bradley would be responsible for two runs. Aaron Arnold scored on the hit, then Conner Corbitt came in when the throw to third went wild. Bradley crossed later when Folsom was called for a balk.
The Panthers got one back in the bottom of the 1st when Noah McMinn singled in Rob Flick and cut the lead to one in the 2nd on a single by Ethan Bryant that drove in Greer Howard.
A leadoff single by Devin Paulk turned into trouble for Stratford in the 3rd when he moved up a base on a wild pitch. That allowed him to score on a base hit by McMinn, who came in a batter later when Howard doubled and the Panthers were up 4-3.
The Eagles missed a big chance to tie the game in the 4th when they passed up two chances to score when Jackson Burgess started the frame with a double. He was held at third on a single by Will Herndon, then kept his base when Austin Devenney sacrificed to the pitcher. They came away with zero runs, leaving Tiftarea up by one when Marlowe hit his first homer.