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Stewart powers Stars to third round of playoffs

LILBURN -- Christin Stewart went 6-for-6 with two home runs and four RBIs as Providence Christian continued to show how powerful its bats are as it swept Gordon Lee (14-4 and 11-2) in the second round of the Class A state playoffs Wednesday.

Stewart, who hit home runs 67 and 68 of his career, is one off the state record held by former Gainesville High and current San Diego Padres pitcher Micah Owings.

With the series win, the Stars (21-10) move onto the quarterfinals where they get a rematch of last year's state championship against Hebron Christian.

"They're such a good team and it will be a huge challenge for us," said Providence head coach Adam Cantrell. "There's a bit of familiarity there for us, since we've met the last three years in the playoffs."

Providence owned the batter's box in both games, scoring seven runs in the bottom of the sixth to run-rule the Trojans in the first game, 14-4. Then, they continued that in the second game, scoring 11 runs in the first four innings, ending any hope Gordon Lee had at making it a series.

The Stars were able to get on the board first in Game 1 when Austin Golden, who went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and one RBI, hit an RBI single to right field to score Erich Stahl.

However, the Trojans (24-9) put the next three runs on the board in the top of the third as they got an RBI double by Tanner Sexton, before a throwing error allowed two runs to score, giving them a 3-1 lead.

But, Providence came back in the bottom half of the inning, scoring four runs to take the lead back.

Austin Loyd tripled to lead off the inning with Stewart hitting an RBI bloop single to score him. An error on the right fielder put runners on second and third with Justin Brew walking to load the bases. Josh Carter then grounded to second as the ball ate up the fielder, allowing two runs to score. Stahl's RBI single scored Brew, putting the Stars up 5-3.

In the fourth inning, Stewart hit his first home run of the day, leaving no doubt when it reached the patch of land beyond the left-field wall.

After a run in the fifth inning by the Stars gave them 7-3 lead, they came up in the sixth inning looking to put more runs across the plate, which they did.

Golden doubled, with Steven Slaughter and Brew walking to load the bases. An RBI single by Josh Carter brought home Golden, while John Bailey was hit by a pitch to bring in a run and Stahl hit into an RBI fielder's choice, which actually turned into an error on the shortstop, allowing another run to score.

The Stars scored three more runs in the inning as Brew drew a bases-loaded walk to push across the 14th run and end the game in six innings.

"We came into the game and didn't let their pitchers dictate the count," Cantrell said. "We didn't chase pitches, but if they threw a fat one over the plate, we wanted to let them know we were swinging. We didn't give them any first-pitch strikes."

Luke Henderson picked up the win on the mound, throwing four innings, giving up three runs (two earned), with four hits and three strikeouts.

"Luke pitched a lot better in this round," Cantrell said. "He didn't struggle to find the zone and he worked the plate. There was one inning with a hiccup in which we gave up three runs, but he came back and pitched through it."

In the second game, Providence continued to stroke it at the plate.

Stahl doubled and scored on an RBI double by Loyd. A walk to Stewart and an RBI single by Austin Smith gave the Stars a 2-0 lead with two runners on and no outs. Golden then walked and Stewart scored on a fielder's choice by Charlie Scott. An RBI bloop single by Carter gave the Stars a 4-0 lead, putting the Trojans in a huge hole before they had a chance to bat.

In the second inning, Stewart hit his second home run of the day to give the Stars a 6-0 lead.

"I honestly don't think about the record when I step up to the plate," Stewart said. "If I did, then I wouldn't have success at the plate because I'd try to do too much. If I get it, then OK, but if I don't, so be it."

As the rest of the game unfolded, the Stars continued to push runs across the plate, eventually getting it to 11-0 after the top of the fourth, after a pair of two-run homers by Loyd and Golden.

In the bottom of the fifth, Providence was one out from getting a run-rule victory, but an error and a two singles netted the Trojans two runs to keep the game going.

However, that's all the Trojans would get as the Stars closed the door, even giving some of their backup players playoff experience.

"We'll take it any way we can get it," Cantrell said of the wins.

Slaughter picked up the win in the second game, going five innings with seven strikeouts.

For the series, Stahl was 4-for-8 with three runs and two RBIs, while Golden was also 4-for-6 with a home run, three runs scored and three RBIs.

Next up, Hebron Christian.

"Last year, we were just excited to play (in the state championship)," Stewart said. "Our energy was there, it just wasn't controlled. This year, we have to go in there focused and play Providence baseball."