Eagles rally to reach second round

Photo: David McGregor. Collins Hill's Morgan Ownbey attempts to turn a double play over Alpharetta's Tyler Agard during the Eagles' Game 1 win Friday afternoon.

Photo: David McGregor. Collins Hill's Morgan Ownbey attempts to turn a double play over Alpharetta's Tyler Agard during the Eagles' Game 1 win Friday afternoon.

SUWANEE -- Collins Hill advanced in the Class AAAAA state baseball playoffs with back-to-back wins Friday night, sweeping to 11-3 and 16-8 victories over Alpharetta in the first round.

The Eagles, the Region 7-AAAAA champions, improve to 22-6 on the season and will host Harrison in Wednesday's second round.

The final scores presume that Collins Hill cruised to two easy wins, but the Eagles trailed by three runs in the first game after two innings and found themselves locked in a 3-3 tie in the fourth inning in the second. The fifth inning proved to be the decisive frame in both contests as Collins Hill exploded for seven runs in Game 1's fifth inning and then crossed the plate nine times in the top of the fifth in the nightcap.

"Baseball is a funny game," said Eagles head coach Paul Pierce. "We were trying to move runners over and play for one run but then we wind up having these huge innings."

After spotting Alpharetta three runs in the first two innings in Game 1, Collins Hill ace James Buckelew settled in and allowed just two hits and four base runners the rest of the way. The Eagle bats finally caught fire as Gang Green picked up a run in the second, two more in the third and one in the fourth to take the lead before the decisive seven-run fifth inning put the game away.

"James has been consistent all year," said Pierce. "He's continued to mature every time he takes the mound and he did a great job tonight, especially considering he was having a hard time gripping his curveball early on. After we got him a rosin bag in the third inning, he was tough to hit."

Buckelew needed 102 pitches for his complete game effort, allowing five hits and three earned runs while walking three and hitting a batter. The left-hander struck out five to improve to 8-2 on the season with a miniscule 1.21 ERA. He helped his own cause at the plate with a two-run home run and Spencer Horridge added two solo shots of his own. Cameron Starling was 3-for-3 with a single, a double and four RBIs.

In Game 2, Morgan Ownbey scattered eight hits and allowed three runs in 42/3 innings of work to improve to 7-1 on the season. The junior right-hander struck out four and did not walk a batter, and, like Buckelew in the opener, helped his team at the plate as well. Ownbey was 3-for-4 with a double and a grand slam in the top of the sixth to finish with a game-high six RBIs.

Garritt Church was 3-for-5 with a five RBIs and a grand slam of his own in the nine-run fifth inning. Leadoff hitter Chris McGowan also had a home run in the second game and finished the doubleheader 4-for-6 and was on base eight of his 10 plate appearances.

The Eagles banged out 25 hits and scored 27 runs in the doubleheader. Collins Hill also showed great discipline at the plate -- taking 13 bases on balls -- which forced Alpharetta pitchers to accumulate high pitch counts. The Raiders' two starters threw over 200 pitches combined in the contests and neither managed to last more than four innings.

"I'm really proud of this team," said Pierce. "We are a team that has to scrap and do the little things to win games. I thought our guys came out here tonight and battled hard -- just like they've done all year.

"When you get to the playoffs, we know everyone is good and is capable. Alpharetta is a good team and they played hard all night. No matter who we get in the next round, we know they will be a good team. There are no bad teams once you get this far."