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Quartet of juniors set tone in Rams' 9-2 win over Lions

SUWANEE -- After an emotional split in Friday's Class AAAAA state first-round doubleheader with Peachtree Ridge, Grayson baseball coach Seth Rhine spoke of his team's need to regain its poise.

Thanks to the leadership of a quartet of veteran juniors, the Rams did just that in the third and deciding game of the series.

Taylor Allum threw six solid innings, while Jeril Dawson, Carter Collins and Austin Meadows combined to go 6-for-8 with five RBIs at the top of the batting order to pace Grayson to a 9-2 win Saturday at Peachtree Ridge.

"We did (show plenty of poise Saturday), and Taylor is a big reason for that," Grayson coach Seth Rhine said of Allum (7-0), who allowed just five hits and two earned runs with four strikeouts to help the No. 3 state-ranked Rams (22-7) advance to the second round, where they will travel to fourth-ranked Luella beginning Wednesday. "A lot of times, a team will feed off a guy. He's our captain.

"We made a little switch at 2 (in the batting order). Carter's been phenomenal (in the No. 8 spot) all year. Jeril's been lights out. He's hitting (about) .650 (since) region (play). And he did it again (Saturday). Anytime you get the table setters going, you're in good shape."

Dawson, Collins and Meadows did their job of setting the table and clearing it to give Grayson a quick lead Saturday.

Dawson and Meadows each had infield hits before Allum was hit by a pitch to load the bases in the top of the first before Jack Banda then drove home Dawson with a chopper to third to give the Rams a 1-0 lead.

But it was the next inning in which the top of the Grayson order did its biggest damage, and it was Collins, who had been moved up to the No. 2 spot in the order from his usual spot at No. 8, who had the big blow.

With two runners on and two outs, junior outfielder launched a towering fly ball to straightaway center that carried over the head of Peachtree Ridge centerfielder Steve Bowman and landed at the base of the wall for a two-run triple.

Meadows then chased home Collins with an RBI single, and Grayson's lead was suddenly 4-0.

"I was just trying to have a good at bat every time (at the plate)," said Collins, who added a sacrifice fly in the fifth to finish the day 1-for-3 with three RBIs and two runs scored. "I was just hoping (the triple) would get down and (Bowman) wouldn't catch it. We needed those two runs.

"Normally, Peachtree Ridge is kind of a grind-it-out team. So, we just needed to make sure we got ahead early."

And that early lead seemed safe with Allum cruising through the first five innings, during which the junior right-hander faced just two over the minimum and recorded three of his four strikeouts on the day.

But after seeing an early 3-0 lead disappear to the scrappy Lions in Game 2 of Friday's doubleheader, even the early four-run lead wasn't enough for Rhine.

"The way Taylor was throwing, we felt good with four. We felt better with more," Rhine said. "We felt if we could get it to five or six, that was the key."

That key came when the Rams cashed in on some good fortune in the top of the fourth off Peachtree Ridge's 6-foot-4, 200-pound freshman Ryne Inman, who had slowed Grayson's momentum fate coming on for starter Bryson Sellers (1-2) in the second.

Dawson's lofted a high fly into the wind that landed just inside the left-field line for a one-out double and went to third when Collins reached, and aggressively took second, after swinging and missing at a third strike that bounced all the way to the backstop.

After Meadows was intentionally walked to load the bases, Allum sent a chopper back to the mound, but the throw home sailed wide, allowing Dawson and Collins to sprint home.

Banda then lofted a sacrifice fly to left, his second RBI of the day, and Grayson's lead had suddenly ballooned to 7-0.

"I still felt like we had a chance (down just 4-0)," Peachtree Ridge coach Ryan Hanik said. "Then they scored three runs (in the fourth), and unfortunately, didn't have to do much to score the three runs. So, it was tough."

But even after the Rams tacked on two more runs on a Dawson RBI double and Collins' sac fly in the fifth to make the score 9-0, the Lions (18-11) kept battling.

Back-to-back-to-back singles by Steve Tomlinson, Cole Rives and Bowman loaded the bases before a throwing error and Tyler Haswell's RBI groundout pulled Peachtree Ridge to within 9-2.

But a potential third run was cut down at the plate by Oscar Valdes on a chopper to third, and Allum struck out pinch hitter Garrett Guy with two runners on to escape further damage.

And Will Mahaffey pitched a scoreless seventh to close out the win, and the series, for Grayson.