Photo: Amanda Hertel. Gladiators' Pat Galivan dives over the goalie following Dustin Cameron's goal in Gwinnett's 3-2 win against the Reading Royals.
SUWANEE -- Trailing Peachtree Ridge by five runs with Jared Walsh on the mound is an unenviable position for any high school baseball team.
Yet Collins Hill found two tiny openings late in its Region 7-AAAAA game against the archrival Lions, and parlayed them into a dramatic 6-5 victory Wednesday at home.
After a pair of passed balls keyed a five-run rally in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game, designated hitter Brandon McKeen delivered a walk-off sacrifice fly in bottom of the seventh.
It was a huge boost for the Eagles (4-7, 2-3), who have now won two straight after losing their first three region games by a combined five runs.
"You just battle and play the game. No doubt, the good Lord smiled on us (Wednesday) night," Collins Hill coach Paul Pierce said. "We've had a stretch of being snake-bit a little bit. It's just good to be on the other side."
It didn't seem that way most of the night. Especially after Walsh escaped a bases-loaded, nobody out situation unscathed while nursing a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third, thanks in no small part to a line-drive double play off the bat of Jimmy Shea.
The Lions then seized momentum by capitalizing on an error to score twice in each of the next two innings.
Cole Rives had an RBI single to key the fourth-inning rally, while Billy Best and Tyler Haswell each drove in a run with an infield grounder in the fifth to put the Lions up 5-0.
And the way Walsh was pitching, it looked like that would be plenty of support.
The Georgia-bound left-hander had limited Collins Hill to just four hits over the first five shutout innings, and was on his way to striking out 10 over six innings of work.
But the ninth strikeout proved to be a bad omen as it wound up going to the backstop, allowing Shea to reach first to lead off the Collins Hill sixth.
After Walsh struck out Cameron Starling, Morgan Ownbey singled and McKeen and Wayne Wages each drew walks to pull the Eagles to within 5-1.
An RBI ground out by pinch hitter Michael Henderson made it 5-2 and Collins Hill wasn't through.
Charlie Padilla delivered his second hit of the game, a towering triple off the base of the wall in straightaway center to bring home two more runs and cut the Peachtree Ridge (5-6, 1-2) lead to 5-4.
And when another pitch wound up at the backstop, courtesy runner Tommy Vaca was able to dash home to tie the game 5-5.
It stayed that way heading to the bottom of the seventh, thanks to some clutch pitching from relievers Matt McCain and Starling (1-1) after the Lions put the first two runners on in the top of the inning, only to come up empty.
Collins Hill was then in business after Starling followed Shea's one-out walk by blooping a single into center, moving Vaca -- in as a pinch runner this time -- to third.
Ownbey was intentionally walked to bring up McKeen, who wasted little time in jumping on the first offering from Peachtree Ridge reliever Donald Frew (1-1).
"I didn't want to just put it in play. I wanted to get it into the outfield," McKeen said. "I was swinging hard for it."
McKeen got enough of it to drive Steven Bowman back a few steps, allowing Vaca to easily beat the centerfielder's throw to the plate and give the Eagles the win. It was tough loss to take for Peachtree Ridge despite the strong outing by Walsh, plus two hits each by Bowman and Brett Polachek.
"We've just got to bounce back," Lions coach Ryan Hanik said. "We've got Collins Hill again (at home) on Friday. We've got to get back to work (today). This one hurts, and Collins Hill did a good job of battling back. But we've just got to get back to work."
Conner Shovelski joined Padilla with two hits to lead the Collins hill offense.
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