It took nearly six-and-a-half hours from the first pitch in Game 1, but No. 2 seed completed a first-round Class AAAA playoff sweep of Flowery Branch, 8-7 and 3-0, Friday night.
The Wildcats of 6-AAAA outlasted the Falcons of 8-AAAA in a nine-inning Game 1 and smothered the Flowery Branch offense in Game 2 to move on to the second round.
Thanks to a game-winning solo home run by Chris Hale in the bottom of the ninth of the series opener and a complete-game shutout by Logan Elliot — who picked up both wins on the evening — in the nightcap, the Wildcats (22-6) will play the winner of the South Paulding/Lambert rubber match.
Due to No. 1 starter Wes Bancroft being out with an illness, Dunwoody head coach Chan English decided to throw James Cunningham in the first contest, which turned out to be a wild one-run Dunwoody victory in nine innings.
“We had to start a kid that hadn’t thrown that much and he did a heck of a job,” English said.
The defense was shaky for both squads in the series opener, as nine total errors were committed in the game (Flowery Branch committed six, and Dunwoody three). Dunwoody’s defense allowed Flowery Branch to extend the game with three runs in the bottom of the seventh to turn an imminent 5-3 Dunwoody victory into a 6-5 Falcons lead. The Wildcats committed two costly errors in the inning, letting Jesse Brookshire cross the plate as the go-ahead run.
“A lot of errors in the first game,” English said. “It was kind of a sloppy game. It was a very long game.”
The Wildcats rallied in the bottom of the seventh with a manufactured run from Mason Wood to tie the game. Wood reached on an infield single, beat a rundown to second base on a pickoff attempt, then scored from second on an error on a Cam Young ground ball to third.
Pitcher James Farnell handled the eighth for Dunwoody and Elliot saw his first action of the night in the ninth inning as a reliever. The Falcons (17-8) would eke out another run in the top of the ninth when Brody Thomas crossed the plate to make it a 7-6 Dunwoody deficit, setting the stage for a dramatic final comeback.
Zach Tonner started the final frame off with a single for Dunwoody. He later advanced to second after a sacrifice bunt from Stelen Stulberger. Then, two pass balls to batter Chris Hale allowed Tonner to take third and then home, tying the game.
With a 2-2 count, a tie game and no one on base, Hale took matters into his own hands.
“I looked down at coach (English) and he was like, ‘sit back,’” Hale said. “Usually when he says ‘sit back’ it means he thinks a curveball’s coming. So I sat back and it was a curveball, and when I hit it, I knew it was gone.”
The solo smash over the leftfield wall, Hale’s fourth of the year, gave Dunwoody victory in the opener. Then, Elliot and the defense would quiet the Falcons in an efficient Game 2.
Elliot got the start after his relief victory in Game 1, and spread out six hits in the 3-0 win. Cam Young blasted his second homer of the season, taking the pitch the other way in the top of the third to open scoring. Tonner led off the fourth with a double. A subsequent double by Stulberger, followed by a single from Hale gave the Wildcats all the runs they would need for the sweep.
Elliot racked up seven strikeouts in Game 2 to improve to 6-3 on the season.
The Wildcats will pick back up with second-round action on Wednesday. A win by No. 4 South Paulding this afternoon would mean another home series for Dunwoody. However, a victory for No. 1 seed Lambert, which defeated Dunwoody 8-0 in February, would mean the Wildcats hit the road.
An earlier verson of this story mistated the name of Game 1's starting pitcher and the number of errors in the game. Those items have been corrected.