Jefferson was the No. 1-ranked team in Class AAA and the No. 1 seed from Region 8 entering the state baseball playoffs this week. The Dragons also were a reigning state champion, the winners of Class AAAA in 2018 before moving down in classification this season.
Trouble was, Jefferson drew Westminster in the first round. The Wildcats were an unlucky No. 4 seed from strong Region 5 and had plenty of history on their side. Westminster had won a state title as recently as 2016.
Westminster defeated Jefferson 5-4 on Thursday evening in the deciding third game of their first-round series.
Eddie Shores, chosen to start the must-win game mainly because he’s left-handed and matched up well against Jefferson’s lefty hitters, struck out 11 batters through 6 2/3 innings. Charlie Wickliffe, another lefty, relieved in the bottom of the seventh with two outs and the winning run on first, the tying run on second. He got a strike out to earn the save.
For the series, Jefferson’s left-handed hitters were 9-for-13 against Wesminster righties but 3-for-18 against Westminster lefties.
Westminster leadoff batter Luke Jannetta had three hits in Game 3, and Will Hallmark, Grant Matzigkeit and Nick O’Reilly had two apiece.
Here are five other first-round series worth noting.
*Pope d. Creekview 5-11, 10-3, 8-7 (AAAAAA): Jefferson wasn’t the only 2018 champion in trouble on Thursday. In another deciding Game 3, Pope trailed 5-0 after two innings, 7-0 entering the bottom of the fifth and 7-6 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The Greyhounds got six in the fifth and two in the final extra inning to save themselves. Will Lantis hit a two-run single to win it and finished 3-for-5. He also scored and drove in a run in the fifth, when the big blow was Caden Smith’s grand slam. Smith, who is committed to Mercer, was 6-for-11 with two homers and two doubles in the series.
*River Ridge d. Cambridge 5-6, 2-1, 9-8 (AAAAAA): River Ridge trailed 8-0 through five innings but scored nine in the sixth for a 9-8 deciding victory Thursday. The big inning started when Kobe Braddock was hit by a pitch. Braddock batted again later in the inning and hit a three-run double. River Ridge had won Game 2 in eight innings on Diego Perez’s walk-off double.
*Dacula d. Northgate 0-2, 7-3, 5-4 (AAAAAA): Colson Crosby hit a two-out home run to right field in the bottom of the eighth inning – his first homer of the season – in the deciding Game 3 on Thursday. It was a game of six ties or lead changes. “That has been the story all year,” Dacula head coach Scott Gaffney told the Gwinnett Daily Post. “I think that’s our third walk-off home run this year, and I can’t say enough about our defense the whole game. They outhit us, they outplayed us and the entire time we just kept fighting.”
*Redan d. Morgan County 11-12, 6-5, 13-11 (AAA): For drama, this had to be the series of the first round. Redan split the first two games – which took nearly seven hours to complete and finished at 1 a.m. Thursday morning. Redan won Game 2 in nine innings on Kevin Kilpatrick’s single to left, which scored Brandon Lamback, who had singled. That came after Redan lost the opener 12-11 on Morgan County’s final at-bat. Redan drove back to Madison (50 miles) for the deciding game Thursday and won 13-11 after trailing 10-8 entering the sixth, when Redan struck for five runes. Kilpatrick, Kameron Guidry and Dorien Branch each homered, and Christian Webb had three doubles. Tyler Williams (three doubles), Guidry (two homers) and Lamback each were 5-for-11 in the series.
*Chattooga d. McNair 28-0, 21-0: It’s not the scores, although they are eye-popping. Chattooga and fellow Region 7-AA teams Model and Rockmart won their games by combined scores of 109-0 against overmatched Region 6-AA. But for Chattooga, the wins were historic. The Indians had never won a state-playoff game. They’d been 0-10 in games, 0-5 in series, since the school opened in Summerville in 1961.
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