July 21, 2018

Braves fall to Berrien in state quarterfinals

(Franklin, GA) — The Braves postseason dream run came to an end Wednesday afternoon following a doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Berrien Rebels from Region 1-AA in South Georgia.

A huge crowd of fans for both teams packed into Alford Field for the Elite 8 showdown between fellow No. 2 seeds and Atlanta Braves stadium announcer Casey Motter was on hand to announce the games.

An Air Life helicopter delivered the game ball for the series and Brave middle school coach Heath Horn threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the game.

The Braves will return seven starters next season including freshman left fielder Leroy Marsh (Photo: Jessica Gallagher/Times-Georgian)

In game one neither team was able to get on the board until the fourth inning when the Rebels pushed two across versus Brave No. 1 starter Tray Owens.

The Braves would bounce back with single runs in the fourth and the fifth, but that would be the only runs the home team would find all day after a scoring barrage in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Berrien took game one by a final score of 8-2 and closed it out with a 3-0 win in the nightcap. Caden Raines and Dale Thornhill each had two hits to lead the Brave offense in game one and Collin Wright added the only RBI of the day.

Pitching ruled in game two with both starters going the distance.

Senior Bryan Jones tossed six innings while allowing just one earned run and striking out six.

Jones scattered six hits and three walks with the Rebels (the home team in game two) scoring the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fifth and then pushing across two more huge runs in the bottom of the sixth after a couple of Brave defensive miscues.

The Braves were able to bring the potential tying run to the plate in the top of the seventh before Berrien starter Brock Jewell was able to close the door after a season-ending double play.

The team was disappointed after the loss, but head coach Trent Bianco gave high praise to his team and especially his senior class in a season where the team exceeded expectations by making the Elite 8 for the third time in four years.

“When you start a season 1-8, it can be tough for high school kids to show up and go to work every day, but our kids wouldn’t allow anything else. They were fantastic and I know I speak for my entire coaching staff when I say I couldn’t be more proud of them especially these seniors,” said Bianco after the game.

“All we heard going into this season was how we lost so many guys and how we’d be taking a big step back, but this senior group put us on their back with leadership and brought us back to the Elite 8 with a shot at going to the Final Four.”

The Braves will graduate Bryan Jones, Davey Raines, A.J. Head, Trevor Garcia and Tyler Hitzeman. Bianco says each of those guys contributed something very special to the program and will be sorely missed.

“Bryan Jones has been with me for five years and all I did was see him grow so much since being an eighth grader — that kid put us on his back this year and now he’s going on to play at college. Davey Raines had not played much varsity at all coming in this year and he was one of the best leaders I have had since I’ve been here. A.J. head was willing to step up in any role we needed him — to whether that be pitching or catching — these guys are so important to a program,” said Bianco.

Bianco says the players that are willing to contribute even knowing they won’t see much or any playing time is what makes the program so special.

“Trevor Garcia just wanted to be part of the team and was willing to show up and bust his butt day in and day out and he helped us a lot by pinch running this year. Tyler wasn’t even eligible to play for us and still wanted to help us win by doing anything he could for us — you just don’t see that,” states Bianco.

Despite the disappointment of the season ending just short of the Final Four, the young Braves gained a lot of experience this year and will return seven starters next season in hopes to get back to the same point again.

Bianco was also thankful for the huge show of support at the games including several former players.

“Thank you to all the parents and our entire community. Heard County is truly a special place and that was evident with so many former players and the community there today! As much as I’m disappointed we aren’t getting ready for the Final 4, I’m thankful I’m a Brave,” concluded the coach.

In other Class AA action, Benedictine swept Social Circle to advance to the Final Four. Callaway and Thomasville split and will face a game three today as will Jeff Davis and Elbert County.

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