Conquerors fall short against Cedar Bluff in second round


By Chris McCarthy/Editor

Coosa Christian left nothing on the table against Cedar Bluff during the teams’ Class 1A second round state baseball playoff series last weekend, but the No. 3 Conquerors ultimately fell short by a couple of runs.

After losing 14-2 in the series opener on Friday (Apr. 29), Coosa kept its season alive with a 4-3 victory in Game 2. The split set up a deciding game 3 on Saturday (Apr. 30), with the Tigers coming away with a 9-7 victory and a berth in the state quarterfinals. Cedar Bluff (16-17) visits No. 1 Decatur Heritage next weekend, while the Conquerors’ ended their season at 23-4.

“We had the game won twice and just couldn’t hold on,” said Coosa head coach Joey Millican. “We had a two-run lead in the sixth inning but we had a couple of errors and couldn’t get a couple of breaks.”

Cedar Bluff got out to a quick start in game 3, as Anthony Dingler singled, stole second and scored on a Coosa error in the bottom of the first inning.

The Tigers tacked on another run in the bottom of the second, with Ethan Teague scoring on another Coosa error.

The Conquerors took the lead in the top of the third, rallying for four runs against Tiger starter Cole Kucharski.

The Tigers tied the game at 4-4 in bottom of the third on Ross Johnson’s sacrifice fly and Joe Bradfield’s RBI-single, scoring Dingler and Josh Decker, respectively.

The Conquerors reclaimed the lead in the top of the fifth, however, making it 6-4 on RBI base hits from Jace Mills and Wesley Grizzard.

But Kucharski retired the Conqueror in order in the top of the sixth, and the Tiger offense exploded for five runs in the bottom of the inning.

Jordan McElroy began the Tiger rally by reaching base after being hit by a pitch. Dakota Dobbins and Johnson drove in a run apiece, while a two-line single from Kucharski put the hosts in a 9-6 hole.

Jackson Justus led off the top of the seventh with a double to leftfield and scored on a one-out double to narrow the gap to one run, but that was as close as Coosa got. Kucharski struck out the next two batters to secure both the game and the series for Cedar Bluff.

The Conquerors did not get off on the right foot in the series, as a four-run second inning, a five-run fifth and a five-run seventh by Cedar Bluff ended the game on the 10-run mercy rule.

Tiger starter Seth Bishop held the Coosa lineup in check for the most part, limiting the Conquerors to three hits while issuing only one walk. He struck out two.

Caleb’s Garrett’s score off an error in the bottom of the fourth drew the hosts within 4-1, but Cedar Bluff pulled away in the following inning, and all the Conquerors managed the rest of the was Ashton Clemmons’ score off Mills’ sacrifice fly in the fifth. Bishop sent down the final six batters he faced. 

With their season on the line, however, the Conquerors received solid pitching and timely hitting to produce a one-run victory in the nightcap.

“It’s the way we’ve done it all year – when our backs are against the wall, we come out and fight,” said Millican. “We work hard never let up. We do the little things that you need to win, and that’s what we did in this game. I told our guys (after game 1) to keep their heads up and move forward and go out and win a ball game.”

With the score knotted at 3-3 in the top of the sixth, Dalton Ashley’s two-out single to centerfield plated Yoshi Kubodera, who was pinch running for Caiden Lipscomb, who had singled earlier in the inning. 

Millican acknowledged that it was a judgment call whether or not to give Ashley the bunt signal. 

“I felt like if [Ashley] got a good extension on it, we could get a hit, and we did. That definitely put us where we needed to be at that point.” 

After a shaky start, Coosa starter Alex Holman sent down 11 of the final Tiger batters. He retired the side in order in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings. He did not record a strikeout but did not issue a walk. He scattered eight hits but only one after the third inning.

“I was hitting my spots better than I did at the beginning of the game, that’s for sure,” said Holman. “My defense really backed me up, so it’s a credit to them.” 

“Alex has been big for us in these types of situations all year,” said Millican. “We give him the ball and tell him to go win game, and he’s absolutely done that every time.”

Matters didn’t bode well for the hosts after just two batters into the home half of the first inning, when Johnson deposited the first pitch he saw over the centerfield wall for a 1-0 Tiger lead. 

Cedar Bluff made it 2-0 in the next inning when Kucharski came home on an RBI groundout. 

After some tough luck on the basepaths in the early going that included being caught stealing and picked off at second, Coosa got on the scoreboard in the top of the third when Garrett’s RBI base hit plated Grizzard.

The visitors pushed across another run in the bottom of the inning to go up 3-1, but Holman essentially shot down the Tiger offense the test of the way, and Ashley’s clutch hit in the sixth forced Saturday’s win-or-go-home game. 

Decker took the loss for Cedar Bluff. In seven innings, he allowed nine hits and four walks.

“He’s such a great pitcher, but kept working at him and chipping away, and good things happened,” said Millican. 

At the plate for Coosa, Lipscomb went 2-for-3 with an RBI, while Grizzard went 2-for-2 with a run scored. Ashley had a hit and an RBI, while Holman, Garrett and Caden Davidson each had a hit.

For the Tigers, Johnson went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored, while Kucharski went 2-for-2 with a run scored.

“I think we won five games last year, so I’m very proud of this group,” said Millican. “We lose just one senior and we’re gaining two or three guys that will help out tremendously, so we’ll be in really good shape for next year.”

The Cherokee County Herald supplemented this article.

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