LILBURN — For the first time this postseason, Parkview’s baseball team had to win a different type of game. The Panthers averaged 11 runs per game and had an average margin of victory of 7.5 runs in their first two playoff rounds, but Tuesday’s Class AAAAAAA quarterfinal series against Denmark was tight all throughout.
But as great teams do this time of year, Parkview found a way to win.
Ryan Spikes hit a grand slam in Game 1 that gave Parkview a 4-2 win, and Daylon Carleton hit a game-winning two-run double in the seventh inning of a 7-5 win in the nightcap to complete the sweep.
The totals for the day were almost identical, with Parkview only winning the aggregate run count 11-7 and the hit tally 19-17. But in 14 innings of tight baseball, a small handful of plays decided the series.
“There is a lot of heart and soul with this team right now,” Parkview head coach Chan Brown said. “They’re finding ways. We were a young team coming in; I’m highly proud of the team and the character and the purpose they have right now.”
Brown’s team trailed 1-0 in the second inning of Game 1, but loaded the bases with nobody out thanks to three consecutive singles from the bottom third of the lineup. That brought up the lead-off hitter Spikes with a huge chance to erase the deficit. The Tennessee committed shortstop only saw one pitch, but he deposited it over the left field wall for a grand slam.
That grand slam staked ace Mason Brown to a 4-1 lead, and he took the baton from there. He did allow eight hits across six innings, but seven of them were singles and he scattered them enough to limit damage.
Denmark’s biggest threat came in the top of the sixth. The Danes had already cut the lead to 4-2 on an RBI groundout and had the go-ahead run at the plate with runners on the corners and just one out. Denmark first baseman Jake Myers hit a one-hopper to second baseman Cayden Gaskin, who delivered a strike to Spikes at shortstop to start a 4-6-3 double play that ended the threat.
That was the final of Brown’s 92 pitches in the game, and it was also the one that preserved a slim lead.
Spikes came in from his shortstop position to shut the game down in the seventh, and he delivered a 1-2-3 inning to lock up a 4-2 Parkview victory.
“Both teams had chances all night,” Denmark head coach David Smart said. “This was their night to come up with the big hit.”
The visitors from Alpharetta again jumped out to another lead early in Game 2, plating three runs in the bottom of the first inning. Third baseman Connor McGinn got it started with a two-run triple, and right fielder Brody Wheeler singled him home to tack on the third run.
Parkview found itself staring down another deficit, but not for long. After closing the gap to 3-2 in the second inning on an RBI double by Gaskin, center fielder Carleton led off the fourth with a home run that barely found its way over the wall in left field.
Denmark hit back with two runs in the bottom half of the frame, and again the Panthers needed a spark. As was the case all day, Spikes was there. He got the rally started in the fifth, tripling and scoring on a Colin Houck sacrifice fly that made it 5-4.
“Ryan Spikes is such a dude,” Brown said laughing. “He’s such a dynamic player. He’s a game-changer when he does things right, and it’s fun to watch.”
Later in the inning with runners on the corners and two out against Denmark starter Samaran Ramanathan, Carleton smoked a base hit back into center field that knotted the score at five.
The game stayed 5-5 until Carleton came back up to bat in the seventh with runners on second and first and one out. He picked up his second clutch hit in as many at-bats with a double into the left center field gap. Both Parkview runners scored, completing the comeback and giving the hosts a 7-5 lead.
“I saw a fastball outside,” Carleton said on his game-winner. “I was just trying to hit the ball to the opposite field. That was my approach.”
Spikes came on for his second save of the day. He surrendered a lead-off single that allowed the tying run to reach the plate, but erased the danger with a stealth pick-off move.
“I kind of botched a pick-off move a couple weeks ago,” Spikes said. “I really had to kind of lock in and put it in a good spot for my first baseman to tag him out. It all worked well.”
Now with the bases empty, Spikes retired the final two hitters to close out the series. He finished the day 4-for-6 at the plate with four RBIs and two saves, and Carleton ended up with 3-for-4 with four RBIs in Game 2.
“This senior class has had two full seasons and they’ve made one state final and one Elite Eight,” Smart said reflecting on his team’s season. “That’s an amazing start to an athletic program. They have really set the precedent of what Denmark baseball is going to be about.”
And while Denmark’s season is finished, Parkview is four wins away from another state championship. The Panthers will host the semifinals against the winner of the Lowndes-Lambert series to be completed Wednesday in Valdosta.
“Whatever is going to happen it will be here,” Brown said looking ahead. “We love the fact that we’ll be home. It just gives us a chance to hopefully get to our goal, and that’s to win a state championship.”