Photo: Daniel Varnado/Rome News-Tribune. Darlington's Lee Couch dives to first as Hebron Christian Academy's Benji Cash attempts the tag in Tuesday's doubleheader in Rome.
ROME — All season long, Hebron Christian has been fueled by stingy pitching and timely power hitting.
It’s a combination that has taken the team farther than it has ever been in the Class A state playoffs — and the Lions used it to perfection Tuesday while sweeping host Darlington 10-8 and 12-2 in the quarterfinals.
Hebron erupted for eight homers in the two games, including hitting three straight long balls in the seventh inning of Game 1, and the Lions’ pitching staff was able to contain a Darlington offense averaging nearly 10 runs per game.
“This is huge for us, and to keep playing on is a blessing,” said Hebron head coach Heath Kennedy. “Darlington is the best hitting team we’ve seen all year, and we were fortunate enough that the mistakes we made today didn’t cost us.”
By sweeping Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Lions advanced to the semifinals to face Calvary Day School.
“At this point and time, you know you’re going to face tough teams, its just who shows up who moves on,” said Kennedy.
In Tuesday’s doubleheader, Seth Gower led the Lions by going 4-for-7 with two runs and seven RBIs. He hit a grand slam and a three-run homer in the second game.
Jordan Hillyer finished 3-for-5 with two home runs, two RBIs and three walks.
Danny Lockhart, the son of former major leaguer Keith Lockhart, finished the series 4-for-8 with two home runs, three RBIs and five runs scored.
“It feels good to advance. Being a senior I’m not ready for the season to end,” said Lockhart. “Senior year you always want to win a state championship, and that’s our goal.”
The first game was scoreless until the top of the third when Christian Davila hit a double to right field to give the Lions a 1-0 lead.
Thanks to some timely hitting and some miscues by the Lions defense, the Tigers put five runs on the board in the bottom of the third to take a 5-1 lead.
After a scoreless fourth, Hebron plated five runs of its own in the top of the fifth to take a 6-5 lead. Senior Matt Stephens had the big hit in the inning with a three-run homer.
Darlington answered back in the bottom of the fifth with two runs to take a 7-6 lead.
The Lions tied the game in the top of the sixth on a solo home run from Davila.
Davila also came in to pitch and recorded the final out of the sixth inning to preserve the 7-7 tie.
The Lions led off the top of the seventh with back-to-back-to-back solo home runs coming off the bats of Lockhart, Hillyer and P.J. Westbury to give the Lions a 10-7 lead. Darlington scored one run in the bottom of the seventh to make the final score 10-8.
“We’ve fallen behind like that a couple of times this year,” Kennedy said. “But I felt comfortable because we’ve been able to score some runs this year, and the pride of our guys showed as they were able to come back after being down.”
Kevin Burgee started the game for Hebron, and pitched 52⁄3 innings, striking out eight and walking two, but giving up 10 hits and seven runs. Davila pitched 11⁄3 innings to get the win.
Game 2 wasn’t back and forth like the first one.
Hebron set the tone early at the plate and on the mound.
After holding Darlington scoreless in the top of the first, the Lions were able draw some walks to load the bases. Senior Seth Gower hit a grand slam to right field to give the Lions a 4-0 lead, and that was all the runs pitcher Mason Felt needed — but Hebron kept adding to the lead.
The Lions scored three runs in the bottom of the second, and then five more in the bottom of the sixth to cap off the 12-2 victory. In the game, Gower went 3-for-4 with two home runs and seven RBIs.
Felt, the junior starting pitcher of Game 2, pitched a complete game, striking out 12 and only allowing two runs to score, both in the third inning.
“It felt great, we wanted to get the sweep and not have to play a third game,” Felt said. “We’ve never been this far, and we’re excited to play on.”
Kennedy spoke highly on Felts game two performance.
“He’s been a shut them down pitcher all year, and he’s just a shut down pitcher who knows how to pitch, and did great against a real good hitting team,” Kennedy said.