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INDEPENDENCE –– For just the second time in the past five years, the Region C baseball championship trophy won’t reside in Grayson County.
Giles powered its way to six runs in the third inning and outplayed the two-time defending regional champion Blue Devils down the stretch, rolling on to the semifinals with a 9-5 win Tuesday at the GNB Baseball Complex.
The loss was a bitter end for Grayson County (17-6), which had won three of the past four Region C titles and reached the Group A finals each of the past two years.
Giles (13-11-1) was making its first region appearance since knocking off the Devils in the 2002 semifinals. Early on, it showed. Grayson County led 4-0 after one and 5-1 entering the third. But a lengthy turn at bat in the top of the third swung the momentum fully in the Spartans’ favor, and Grayson County never recovered.
“When we had that big inning, once you get that you tend to loosen up and believe in yourself,” longtime Giles coach Bruce Frazier said. “That’s what we needed right there. We know they’re good. They hopped on us early and got us down but we clawed our way back into it and we played with a lot more confidence after that.”
No. 9 batter Joey Stevers got the big inning started with a solo home run to left, and Jordan Cole followed two batters later with a two-run shot. Two hit batters set up a Michael Atkins RBI single and ended Grayson starter Jessup Lambert’s day, and Josh Rader greeted reliever Josh Farmer with a two-run single.
Devil ace Zack Jones came on to end the inning, but not before the Spartans had seized a 7-5 lead.
“We hit it. We just flat hit the ball well, and played a little bit of inspired defense,” said Frazier. “We had a couple of breakdowns, but you can expect that. We turned two double plays, which can take you out of a big inning.”
Giles added single runs on a Zach Atkins sacrifice fly in the sixth and a Gavin Lee stolen base in the seventh that resulted in two throwing errors.
The Devils made their share of mistakes offensively, as well. Three called strikes in the sixth wasted two base hits, and a line drive double play, one of two Giles twin-killings, snuffed any chances of a seventh-inning rally.
“We just made mistakes that a team that’s been to a couple of state finals shouldn’t make, like looking at third strikes and throwing the ball around and making baserunning mistakes,” Grayson coach Mike Worrell said. “You can’t win big games with the mistakes that we made.”
The day couldn’t have started any better for the Blue Devils. Two singles through the hole into left set up a two-run Farmer double. A hit batter and a throwing error loaded the bases for Lambert, who singled through the same hole, driving in two. One of the runs was scored by Bo Pollard, the Devils’ second baseman who was hit in the face with a fastball in last Thursday’s district finals. Playing with a fractured nasal cavity with more than a dozen stitches in his mouth, Pollard was plunked by the first pitch he saw since Thursday’s beaning.
But while Grayson was wearing out the little hole into left, Giles began wearing out the big hole beyond it. Michael Atkins got Giles on the board with a homer to deep left, the first of three Spartan big flies to that part pf the park.
Grayson also helped out a laboring Zack Atkins with a quick bottom of the fourth. Atkins drilled Chris Anders before coaxing a double play ball and a pop-up on consecutive pitches.
“He threw 60 pitches in two innings, and 75 through three, and then we gave him that three-pitch fourth inning and that seemed to turn things around for him,” Worrell said
Atkins’ pitch count eventually reached 142. He allowed three earned runs on nine hits, striking out seven. Wes Conley had three hits while Cole, Michael Atkins and Stevers added two hits each.
“My compliments to Giles,” Worrell said. “They showed up late, got off the bus and started whipping us.”
Jones finished his career with a 25-1 record by working 4 2/3 innings of relief. He gave up one earned run on four hits, fanning eight. Jones and Farmer had two hits each for the Devils.