RAINSVILLE — Deciding games have become the norm for this year’s Mars Hill baseball team in its quest to win the Class 3A championship.
The Panthers went three games in the second round before eliminating Madison Academy and in the quarterfinals against Piedmont.
Today, they face another elimination game. This time, it’s Plainview that stands in the way of a state championship series appearance next week in Montgomery. Mars Hill dropped a tough 9-5 decision in eight innings to the Bears (35-2) in their semifinal opener Friday and then held on for a 4-3 victory in the second game.
Today’s third game is set for 2 p.m. Thomas Burrows will again try to pitch the Panthers (31-17) to the series victory.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” Mars Hill coach Jay Mitchell said. “On the road, we got one out of two and we get to throw Thomas (Burrows) out there. Whatever happens he gets to go out there and decide it. That’s what we like.”
The Panthers were in the same situation just four days ago in the rain-delayed Piedmont series. Burrows, an Alabama signee, pitched the Panthers to a 3-1 win in that game.
“We’ve got six seniors who have been here before,” Mitchell said. “It doesn’t mean we’ll win, but they have been here.”
After dropping the opener on Colton Campbell’s grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning, Mars Hill scored all of its runs in the first three innings of the second game and then survived another Campbell home run in the top to win 4-3 and set up today’s series finale.
Irby, who lasted only three batters in the first game before Mitchell pulled him in favor of Colby Smith, pitched five effective innings for the win. Drew Black got the final six outs for the save.
“I think Glenn had to get his nerves out,” Mitchell said of the quick hook in the first game. “That’s me talking. I didn’t go with him long. He might have settled in. That’s my fault.”
Mars Hill scored an unearned run in the first when Irby singled and Black, who walked scored on an outfield error.
Brandon Krieger tripled and scored on Logan Foote’s sacrifice fly in the second inning for a 2-0 lead. After Plainview cut it to 2-1 in the top of the third, the Panthers answered with two runs, including one on Krieger’s sacrifice fly to lead 4-1.
It was 4-3 in the seventh after Campbell homered to left field. But Black got the final three outs for the save.
“It was two really good games,” Plainview coach Jeff Brooks said. “It came down to the end in each game. We left some runners on base - bases loaded twice. Against good teams you have to be able to score those in order to win. When you don’t, the other team is going to win. Their pitcher did a good job getting out of those situations, so hat’s off to them.”
Mars Hill had five hits in the second game, including two singles by Irby.
In the opener, Plainview rallied from a 5-3 deficit in the bottom of the seventh to win on Campbell’s grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning against a tiring Colby Smith.
Campbell, who pitched a complete game for the win, burned the Panthers in both innings. His two-run single with one out in the seventh tied the game at 5. He then provided the game winner in the eighth, launching a grand slam to center field.
Javier Gonzalez put the Panthers in a bind when he led off the bottom of the eighth with a double. He moved to third on a wild pitch, forcing Mitchell’s hand. Cody Edmondson’s grounder against a six-man infield couldn’t score Gonzalez, and with one out Mitchell had Smith intentionally walk Cody Willingham and Cole Porter.
Campbell spoiled the strategy with his first-pitch homer. He finished with eight RBIs.
Mars Hill took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first on Irby’s RBI double and error, but Plainview came back with three in its half of the inning on Campbell’s two-run double and an infield error two batters later.
Mars Hill tied it with an unearned run in the fourth inning and went ahead 4-3 in the fifth when Burrows hit a long home run to right field. Thomas May’s pinch-hit single to right field in the sixth gave the Panthers a 5-3 seemingly safe lead before Campbell started with his heroics, driving in the tying runs with a single.
“How do we get him out? If somebody knows please tell me,” Mitchell said. “You may see some intentional passes (in the third game). He had a day.”
Mitchell was impressed with Smith, who pitched 7 2/3 innings in relief of Irby, but second guessed himself for not going to his bullpen when it appeared the North Alabama signee was tiring.
“I thought Colby was a warrior,” Mitchell said. “He was gassed. That’s me. I probably should have made a move. We went ahead and made a move when Glenn started looking tired in the second game.”
Burrows, who had three hits including a homer in the first game, is eager to pitch today.
“We’ve risen to the challenge for a couple of rounds now,” Burrows said. “We’re looking forward to being able to give ourselves a chance. Colby pitched well. That was just a tough way to lose that (first) game being three outs away. Plainview is a good team - definitely the best team we’ve played this year. That’s the way it’s supposed to be when you get to the fourth round. “
Contact Gregg Dewalt at 256-740-5748 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @greggdewalt on Twitter.