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Lions can't hold off Lassiter

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

MARIETTA — Two on. Two outs. Full count. Down by two runs. Peachtree Ridge senior standout Jared Walsh was completely comfortable. He had already tattooed a first-inning pitch over the right field wall to get the Lions on the board.

Now he had a chance to retake the lead.

The fastball from sophomore Lassiter pitcher Caleb Kutsche found the middle of the plate and Walsh did what he does best.

A deafening ping rang out and Walsh’s ball went screaming to the deepest part of Lassiter Field, over the head of the center fielder and 10 feet over the wall on a line.

Walsh was almost home before the ball landed and so were the Lions — up 6-5 on last year’s state champion runner-up in Game 3 of the best-of-three series.

But the scoreboard read inning No. 6.

Lassiter beat upstart Peachtree Ridge in Game 3 with three runs in its half of the sixth to end the Lions’ first postseason series in school history Saturday.

“I didn’t really trot, it was more of a sprint (around the bases),” Walsh said. “I just couldn’t wait to touch all four bases. At that point I just thought it was over because we had such a momentum swing. I thought that was the nail in the coffin for them, but they battled and did what a good baseball team is supposed to.”

The Trojans opened the bottom of the sixth with a sharp grounder to second off sophomore Tyler Haswell, who then surrendered singles to Lassiter’s Andy Rief and Keegan Corley. Rief scored the tying run from first on Corley’s long single and Corely took second on the throw before Matt McGuire reached on a deep grounder to second. The Lions then intentionally walked junior Audi Plemmons — who was 3-for-3 with a double — to load the bases.

Lassiter shortstop Cornell Nixon next took five pitches to walk in the go-ahead run, and the Trojans added an insurance run with a fielder’s choice from Georgia-bound senior Nelson Ward. Plemmons was thrown out at home trying to add another insurance run on the play, but the damage was done as the Trojans took an 8-6 lead into the top of the seventh.

Senior Brett Polachek stroked a liner to left to lead off the seventh, but a double-play ball followed by a grounder to first ended the Lions’ season for good.

“You have to tip your cap to Lassiter,” coach Ryan Hanik said. “Coach (Scott) Kelly had them believing that it’s never over and they came out and took care of business in the bottom of the sixth.”

Head coach Ryan Hanik expressed regret that Walsh, who was suffering from soreness in his elbow, didn’t get to pitch in his only postseason series and wondered how it could have changed the outcome.

“I hate it for Jared Walsh,” Hanik said. “He had two home runs and we weren’t able to get him to the mound. He’s waited four years for this opportunity in the playoffs.

“If he had pitched it would have changed the series.”

Walsh said he would have relished a chance to help out his team on the mound, but he hoped a little rest would help his elbow heal quickly.

“I saw how great Preston (Johnson) threw last night, and I wanted to get out there so bad,” Walsh said. “But that’s the way baseball is. I think it would have made a dramatic difference if I had been able to toe the rubber.”

Kutsche ended up with the win for Lassiter.

Hanswell took the loss for the Lions, who began the game off strong with three runs in the first two innings before Lassiter could notch one.

Walsh started off the scoring with a solo shot off Lassiter starter Andrew McLarnon. The Lions then ganged up on McLarnon with consecutive singles from sophomore Cooper Burdick and Polachek. Junior starter Donald Frew drew a walk to load the bases and a single by junior Steven Bowman gave the Lions their second run.

With the bases loaded, sophomore catcher Anthony Perez socked a deep, but playable, fly ball to centerfield to end the Lions early threat.

Peachtree Ridge took advantage of a walk and a hit batter to score their third run on Burdick’s second single of the game.

The Region 5-AAAAA champs answered in the second on a two-run homer from McGuire. The Trojans took their first lead in a four-hit, three-run third inning off of Lions pitchers Bryan Sellers and Drew Coffey.

Despite the disappointing finish, Hanik said he wasn’t surprised at how his team performed against the state-powerhouse Trojans.

“Our kids battled hard and I do believe gave Lassiter a little bit more than they thought they were going to be getting when we came over,” Hanik said. “I wouldn’t say we were surprised. We play in a conference that gets you ready for postseason play.”

Walsh, set to continue his career at UGA next spring, said he was honored at how his team came together this season to squash expectations.

“(This season) has absolutely been a success,” Walsh said. “Peachtree Ridge is not known as a baseball school, and I’m proud to say I’m part of the first team to make the playoffs here. That was my goal at the beginning of the season.

“To see how good we played here — it’s kind of a tough one to swallow cause I really think it’s our business to be in the postseason.”