LILBURN — As many errors as there were in the field throughout the key Region 8-AAAAAA baseball game between South Gwinnett and Parkview, it was a pair of important plays the Comets were able to make the spelled the difference.
A pair of throws to gun down a potential run at the plate squelched a Parkview rally in the bottom of the sixth, and another on a tricky pop fly with the tying run at the plate in the seventh helped South close out an 8-6 win at Hugh Buchanan Field and hold onto sole possession of first place in the region.
Montrell Marshall had a big day at the plate by going 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs as the Comets (12-3, 5-0) scored seven runs in the first two innings, while Adrian Martinez also turned in a solid start on the mound, going 5 2/3 innings and giving up four hits and two earned runs with five strikeouts.
But it was the key defensive plays that helped South hold onto the lead as Parkview (9-4, 6-2) tried to rally late.
"We got maybe one or two more plays than (Parkview) did, and that ended up being the difference," South coach Steve Teschner said. "We've got to get a little better defensively. We've got to do a better job reading ground balls. There's never enough lead in this park. You can't get comfortable."
That was the case even after Marshall's three-run homer in the first, plus a four-run rally — keyed by RBI singles from Marshall and Mason Hart and two of Parkview's five errors on the day — in the second, left South with a 7-0 lead.
"We didn't play our game," Parkview coach Chan Brown said. "The kids tried to compete, but we didn't compete early. That put us in a bind from the get-go. South did what we needed to win (Monday) night, and we didn't."
Even after the Comets answered Jarrett Hood's solo homer by taking advantage of a passed ball and a wild pitch for a run in the top of the fourth — their sixth unearned run of the day — to make the score 8-1, the lead wasn't safe, in part because they were having trouble of their own in the field.
A pair of errors led to one of Parkview's three unearned runs in the bottom of the inning to pull the Panthers to within 8-2.
Two innings later, two more South errors and Micah Finley's RBI single sparked a rally that cut the Comets' lead to 8-4 and chased Martinez (2-0) from the game.
Daino Deas then greeting reliever Brandon Matics with a drive down the left field line that bounced off the wall, and sent Colton Nash crashing into it, for an RBI double that made the score 8-5.
But the senior leftfielder bounced quickly to his feet and fired the ball in to Hart, who wheeled and sent a perfect relay to the plate, where catcher Morgan Miller had the plate blocked and managed to tag Rob Youngblood out to end the rally and keep the Comets in front.
"Just (Nash) staying with that ball and not letting the wall taking advantage of him (was big)," Teschner said. "He got up hit his target on the cut, and (Hart) made a good throw on a bang-bang play. And that was a clutch play by (Miller). That's not an easy play to make to pick that ball and hang onto it when (Youngblood) is barreling down on you."
Matics and the Comets then had one more bullet to dodge in the seventh after walk, by Trevor Brown, a wild pitch, a balk and Hunter Thornton's two-out, RBI double pulled the Panthers to within 8-6, and brought the big bat of Hood to the plate representing the potential tying run.
Matics then got the Parkview first baseman to send a high pop into the air in foul territory by the first-base line that got caught up in a swirling wind.
But Zack Bogardts stayed with the pop after overrunning it and dove to make the catch and close out the win for South.
Hart joined Marshall in leading the Comets' offense with two hits, while Hood finished the game 2-for-4 with the homer and a double to lead Parkview.