And then, there were two.
The two remaining Gwinnett teams left in the high school baseball state playoffs — North Gwinnett and Wesleyan — needed clutch performances to win a third and deciding game on the road in their respective quarterfinals series Wednesday.
Semifinal matchups in the state high school baseball playoffs:
5 p.m. North Gwinnett at Harrison (DH)
2 p.m. Wesleyan at Brookstone (DH)
The Bulldogs took a 7-5 win at Chapel Hill and the Wolves rallied in their final at bat for a 4-3 win at Calvary Day.
However, the two teams have a very different histories when it comes to the making the semifinals, which both North and Wesleyan will enter Monday.
North’s upcoming series against Harrison will be the Bulldogs’ first appearance in the semis since moving up to Class AAAAA, and the first since making the Class AAA state semifinals in 2000.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to advance past (the quarterfinals),” said coach Frank Vashaw, whose Bulldogs improved to 21-12 on the season. “In (2007), we had an outstanding team and weren’t able to do this. A lot of people maybe overlooked us. ... It was great to win a very important game not having to jump on somebody’s back.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next round, but we’re glad to still be there.”
North did need a well-rounded team effort to outlast Chapel Hill in three games.
They got clutch hitting from the usual suspects like Chris Hawkins, who went 5-for-9 with two home runs and four RBIs for the series, plus contributions from less-heralded sources like Coty Nash (five hits in the Bulldogs’ two victories) and Chad White (7-1), who got the win in Game 1 and the save in Wednesday’s clincher.
For Wesleyan (24-9), the semifinals are much more familiar territory.
When the Wolves travel to Columbus to take on Brookstone for a Monday doubleheader, it will mark the fifth straight season the Wolves have played in the Final Four — the last two in Class A after making it three straight season in Class AA.
Three of the previous four times, Wesleyan has gone on to the finals to play for the championship, with the Wolves having won titles in Class AA two years ago and Class A last year.
Coach Mike Shaheen says that postseason experience — especially from the six seniors who played on both the previous two title teams — played a vital role in Wednesday’s late-inning rally against Calvary Day.
From Devin Stanton’s complete-game in Game 2 to keep Wesleyan alive to key hits in the Game 3-winning rally by Kevin O’Leary and Conor Welton, the Wolves’ ability to keep from panicking under pressure is a major reason why they still have a chance for a three-peat.
“That’s great maturity our guys have,” Shaheen said. “They are playing in a way that’s very professional. All they talk about is getting their business done.”