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Hebron breaks out brooms against powerful Pace Academy

DACULA — Facing Pace Academy’s two top prospects, and with scouts in the stands, Hebron Christian swept the Knights in the second round of the Class A playoffs Wednesday.

Game 1 was not pretty. But it was a win. The Lions won a protracted battle against Pace and pro prospect Kameron Uter 10-7.

Game 2 was full of good defensive plays and Hebron starter Drew Coker outdueled Georgia Tech commit Jared Datoc for a 5-0 shutout victory.

“Drew has been a phenomenal guy for the past two years,” Lions head coach Josh Carter said. “The past two years, he may have had two bad outings. He is a very, very solid gun on the mound. But more so, his attitude and his morale on the mound is like no other.

“He doesn’t get rattled out there. He has a lot of confidence in me calling the pitches and I have a lot of confidence in Drew. I’ll call any pitch in any count and it doesn’t matter. Drew is just a great person and he did a great job gritting it out.”

Coker stymied Pace for all seven innings. The Knights had five hits and three walks, but couldn’t break through. Coker struck out six, including one for the final out of the game and series win.

He also got some help from the defense. Two walks to start the second inning left runners at the corners, but Caleb Martin made a fantastic throw from the outfield to bust the lead runner at home and turn a double play.

Third baseman Parker Runnels made a acrobatic stab over his head in the sixth for the first out and Martin gunned down Datoc who was trying to stretch a double into the tripe to end the inning.

“Drew matched their D-I commit pitch for pitch,” Carter said. “I kept telling him, ‘We’re going to get you some (runs)’ and we finally pushed a few across.”

Datoc was working smoothly through the innings until the Lions scraped together a pair of runs in the sixth.

Joey Ruiz worked a two-out walk and Runnels got into a curve ball from Datoc. The crack of Runnels’ blast to the wall in center field sparked pinch runner Peyton Coker. The speedy Coker scored from first on Runnels’ RBI double. Runnels scooted home on an error for a 2-0 Hebron lead.

The Lions added three more in the seventh with Matthew Glisson’s lead-off triple sparking the effort.

Coker closed the door on the Knights in the bottom of the seventh to complete the sweep after Hebron battled back from an early 4-0 deficit in the opener.

The Lions scored seven unanswered runs over the course of three innings and led 7-4 headed for the sixth inning.

Pace capitalized on a series of errors to even the score again, but the Lions showed heart again to push three runs across in the bottom of the sixth.

“We had a tough top of the sixth there, but we hit the ball when we needed to,” Carter said. “We’re going to have errors and we’re going to have bad at-bats, but I can say one thing about these guys with 100 percent honesty, they pick each other up every time.”

Ruiz led off with a base knock that dropped in front of the left fielder. Pinch runner Luke Crawford was pushed to third on a sacrifice fly from Runnels and a groundout by Drew Coker. Glisson worked a walk to leave runners at the corners.

Then big catcher Robby Stephens stepped in and launched a bomb to the track in center, scoring both runners and breaking up the deadlock.

Freshman Will Hardigree, a hero in Hebron’s first-round opener against Providence, smacked a solid rap to left field to bring Stephens sliding home in a cloud of dust.

Starting pitcher Brad Runnels put the finishing touches on a quality complete-game win by getting the Knights down in order to secure the 10-7 victory.