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Wesleyan splits playoff series

NORCROSS -- The plot, full of drama, is unfolding just like a year ago. Will the conclusion be the same?

Wesleyan hopes so.

Paired in a second-round rematch of last season's Class A title series, the defending champion Wolves and Landmark Christian will have to play a deciding third game again.

In a matchup worthy of a championship showdown rather than a second-round series, the teams split a doubleheader Wednesday night at Wesleyan, just like they did last year with the title at stake.

As one fan yelled after Landmark's 6-5 walk-off victory in the second game, "It's a rerun of last year."

Wesleyan, also playing at home then, will try for a repeat of last year's ending.

No. 1-ranked Landmark (28-2) will play No. 2 Wesleyan (21-8) at 5 p.m. today with the winner advancing to the state quarterfinals.

Kevin O'Leary, who broke the Gwinnett County home run record with his 21st in the 6-3 opening victory by Wesleyan, is scheduled to start for the Wolves. Landmark will pitch Eric Burdette.

Wesleyan, the designated visiting team in Wednesday's second game, scored four times with two out in the seventh inning, but Landmark came back to win on Drew McDuffie's single with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning.

Last season, Wesleyan won 10-9 in eight innings in the opening game and Landmark came back to square the series with a 6-4 victory in the nightcap of the doubleheader.

The Wolves won the title easily the next day, though, with an 11-1 romp. This season's deciding game figures to be much tighter.

Strother White pitched a complete game for Wesleyan in the first game Wednesday and the Wolves backed the senior right-hander with four homers, two by Conor Welton. White (10-1) allowed just three hits and struck out 11 while walking two.

"He pitched a great game," Wesleyan coach Mike Shaheen said. "That team can hit."

Landmark showed it in the second game, getting to Wesleyan starter Devin Stanton, who came in with a 0.63 ERA, for three runs in the first inning and building a 5-1 lead on pitcher Jonathan Roberts' fifth-inning homer.

Roberts (10-1) struck out 14 through the first six innings and seemed to be cruising. But the senior right-hander faltered in the seventh and Wesleyan battled back.

The Georgia Tech signee walked three in the inning and Gardner Heaner drove in the first two runs with a two-out single. Then Mason Colquitt's hard grounder was booted at third base and the Wolves tied the game.

There wouldn't be extra innings, though.

A walk, double by Roberts and another walk loaded the bases. Sophomore reliever Sheldon Connor got one out on a short fly to center, but McDuffie bounced a single into left field to force a deciding third game.

Landmark leadoff hitter Kyle Wren was the offensive star of the doubleheader despite O'Leary's record 21st homer -- one more than Jeff Francoeur hit for Parkview in 2001. The son of Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren was 5-for-7 with a homer and six stolen bases.

Down 3-1 after Wren's two-run homer in the top of the third inning in the opener, Wesleyan came roaring back.

The first of Welton's two homers cut the deficit to a run in the bottom of the inning and the Wolves scored three times in the fourth, knocking previously unbeaten Landmark starter Dustin Brantley out of the game.

Heaner tied the game with a homer leading off the decisive inning and Wesleyan added two more runs to go ahead. White and Colquitt scored after singling and Carter Garrison had a double.

Welton hit his second homer of the game and fourth of the season leading off the fifth inning, but White didn't need the extra cushion.

Landmark didn't get a hit over the final four innings of the opener, with the War Eagles' only runners coming on a pair of walks. White retired 13 of the final 15 batters he faced, with the Wolves pulling of a pair of double plays.

Welton followed his two homers in the opener with three more hits in the second game. But Wesleyan couldn't pull off a sweep.

"Maybe this is what was supposed to happen," Shaheen said. "Talk about exciting?

"Now I hope it ends up like last year. These are two really good teams."