Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips
Peachtree Ridge's baseball team runs out onto the field after defeating Norcross 6-4 on Friday. The win over the Blue Devils marks the Lions' first playoff berth.
SUWANEE — With the final Class AAAAA state playoff berth from Region 7-AAAAA on the line, there was plenty of drama expected when Peachtree Ridge and Norcross met on the baseball diamond.
And Friday night’s game had it all — clutch hitting and pitching, key defensive gems and miscues. And plenty of controversy.
It also had an unlikely hero in Brett Polachek, who delivered his two biggest hits of the season to drive in five runs and lift the Lions to their first postseason appearance in school history with a 6-4 victory.
“After 169 innings of baseball got it to this game, this is a beautiful culmination of a season of hard work,” a jubilant Peachtree Ridge coach Ryan Hanik said. “(Especially) for these three seniors who have battled three years, I’m just so proud for them.”
One of those seniors, Polachek, was the man of the hour for the Lions.
Entering the game hitting just .213, the senior didn’t even start and was inserted into the game in the top of the second primarily to provide more defense at first base.
But his three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth gave Peachtree Ridge (13-13, 9-9) its first lead of the game, and then his bad-hop, two-run single the next inning broke a 4-4 tie and put the Lions up for good.
“I told one of my assistants, ‘He’s going to come up in a big situation and something special’s going to happen,’” Hanik said. “And I’ll be darned, Brett Polachek did a heck of a job.”
But there was plenty that happened before Polachek’s heroics, especially after William Paschal launched a two-run homer in the top of the first to give Norcross (13-13, 9-9) an early 2-0 lead.
The first of several controversial situations then arose after an error, Steven Bowman’s sacrifice bunt and Tyler Chaney’s RBI single pulled Peachtree Ridge to within 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth.
With runners on first and second and still only one out, a pitch by Norcross starter Joseph Wilber hit the dirt near the feet of Tripp Miller.
Thinking the ball had hit him, Miller headed first, but courtesy runner Michael Sommerville thought the ball had simply gotten away and took off for third, and then he and Hanik thought they had seen the base umpire put his hands up to signal a dead ball.
Instead, Sommerville was called out when Norcross catcher Adam Greenstein threw down to third, and the call was upheld after a lengthy argument.
After Miller followed with a single, Wilber was able to strike out Preston Johnson to escape the inning with the lead still intact.
But he would not escape the fifth, even after Greenstein increased the Blue Devils’ lead to 3-1 with his RBI single in the top of the inning.
After Billy Best reached on a single into the hole between first and second, Jared Walsh followed with a single to left to put runners on first and third for Polachek, who Wilber had struck out to escape a bases-loaded jam two innings earlier.
But after falling behind in the count 1-2 to Chris Raasch (4-6), who entered the game in relief of Wilber after pitching on Wednesday, Polachek got his pitch.
“I felt (Greenstein) moving in,” Polachek said. “I was praying it was a fastball, and it was. And I just made solid contact.”
Solid enough to drive the ball over the wall in left-center field to vault Peachtree Ridge in front 4-3.
“He unloaded,” Norcross coach Andy Collins said of Polachek. “And that’s my fault. I’ll take all the blame for that. It was the wrong pitch. The wrong call.”
But in the top of the sixth, Paschal unloaded his second homer of the game in just about the same spot as Polachek’s to pull the Blue Devils back even at 4-4.
However, Polachek would get one more chance in the bottom of the inning after Walsh was hit by another pitch in the dirt after Wilber had re-entered the game to pitch, loading the bases with two outs.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t want (Walsh) to be hit by the pitch,” Hanik said. “Not because Brett couldn’t do it, but because Jared was made for that spot. He’s been the man to be in that spot all year long.”
But this was Polachek’s night as he went with another 1-2 fastball on the outer half of the plate and sent a hard-hit grounder that took a wicked hop over the head of Kevin Cosola at first base and into right field for a two-run single that put the Lions back in front at 6-4.
From there, Johnson (5-5) retired the side in order in the seventh, finishing off a gutsy performance on three days rest in which he scattered five hits and two earned runs with three strikeouts for the complete game victory.
For Norcross, it was a tough end to a season in which the Blue Devils came up just short in a crowded region race.
“I’m just proud of our kids,” Collins said. “It has been a battle all year (long), and they’ve come every single play to work at it. ... My hat’s off to (Peachtree Ridge). They got the hits when they needed it, especially (Polachek).”
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