Photo by Christine Troyke
KENNESAW -- As much of a factor as the bats have been for both North Gwinnett and Harrison during the Class AAAAA state baseball playoffs, pitching was a key to Monday's semifinal doubleheader between the two at Don Shaw Field.
Chad White threw a complete game in the opener and was backed by the bats of Chris Hawkins and Nick Jones as the Bulldogs rolled to a 6-1 victory.
But in the nightcap, Christian Turnipseed did plenty of damage with his arm by throwing 61/3 strong innings, plus slugging three hits and driving in three runs at the plate -- including a home run -- as the Hoyas evened the series with an 11-4 win.
As a result, the two teams will meet again here this afternoon at 5 p.m., with a trip across Cobb County to take on Lassiter in this weekend's championship series on the line.
"We're playing with house money," North coach Frank Vashaw. "We're in a situation where (if) we lose our last game of the (regular) season, and we're not even in the playoffs. Here we are a game away from having a chance to play for a state championship."
The Bulldogs (22-13) got to that point by getting their big bats booming in Game 1, especially during a decisive fourth inning with the score tied 1-1.
With two outs and nobody on base, Hawkins -- who had extended his hitting streak to 30 straight games on the game's first pitch -- turned on a 2-1 pitch on the inner half of the plate and launched a majestic solo home run to right to give North a 2-1 lead.
Seth Bancroft then drew a walk, and Nick Jones followed with a two-run blast to right -- his ninth of the season -- to extend the Bulldogs' lead to 4-1.
That was enough for White (8-1), who shook off Matt Gonzalez's first-inning homer to set down 10 Harrison (26-9) hitters in a row and 12 of 13 at one point before running into a little trouble in the fifth.
But he bore down and struck out Michael Hodorowski with runners on second and third to get out of the inning.
"We got a couple longballs in the fourth inning," Vashaw said. "And Chad White pitched as well as I've seen him pitch."
White looked like he was beginning to tire in the seventh after North had struck for two insurance runs on a wild pitch and Jones' RBI single in the top of the inning.
But the senior right-hander pitched around Matt Allen's leadoff single by inducing a double play from Preston Neely, and then bounced back from Jason Celler's two-out single to strike out pinch hitter Taylor Bowles to earn the complete-game victory.
White scattered six hits and just the one earned run and struck out seven over the seven innings.
In Game 2, it was Turnipseed (8-2) who was dealing by shutting out North over the first five innings before tiring.
He wound up giving up eight hits and four earned runs with five strikeouts in 61/3 innings.
But he needed help with his defense in a key early turning point.
With the game still scoreless in the bottom of the second, the Bulldogs loaded the bases to bring Hawkins to the plate.
The Tennessee signee then sent a towering fly ball deep into the left field corner that Preston Neely initially turned the wrong way on.
But the Hoyas senior recovered and made a diving catch just in front of the fence to keep the game scoreless.
"It might've gotten ugly if (Neely) hadn't made that catch," Harrison coach Mark Elkins said. "It was a big play in the game. We were very fortunate to come out of that inning without giving up any runs.
"Pitching and defense is critical in making a run at a state championship."
Neely's defensive play ignited the Harrison bats, and Turnipseed got those bats started with a runner on and one out in the next half inning by blasting a two-run homer to left to put the Hoyas up 2-0.
Gonzalez followed with his second homer of the day on the next pitch to make the score 3-0, and Harrison added two more runs in the fourth and fifth innings to push its lead to 7-0.
North finally got to Turnipseed with three runs in the sixth -- capped by Luke Tindol's two-run double.
But Harrison answered with four more in the top of the seventh to put the game away.
Another bright spot for North in Game 2 was that Hawkins kept his hitting streak going at 31 games with a single in his last at bat, and finished the doubleheader 3-for-6.
White and Kyle Norton each had four hits on the day, while Jones finished the day 3-for-9 with three RBIs.