October 18, 2018

Braves sweep past Dublin into Elite 8

(Franklin) — The 2015 Braves varsity baseball team continued to etch their names into school history Wednesday afternoon sweeping the Dublin Fighting Irish in a sweet 16 doubleheader to earn a spot in the GHSA Class AA state quarterfinals for the first time since 1985.

After cruising to a 9-3 win in game one, the Braves took a much different route to victory in the nightcap storming back from a 6-3 deficit during the final two frames to win 8-7.

“I tell you what, I couldn’t be more proud of our guys than I am right now. It’s been the same thing all year. They just don’t quit on each other. Until the last out, they always think we’ve got a shot to win,” coach Trent Bianco said.

“There’s another moment right there in game two. We are down in the seventh and we put something together. Someway, these guys just find a way to win. It’s an unbelievable feeling to know that we’re one of the last eight teams in the state.”

Junior Carl Lipford was the MVP of the series as he came on in relief to pick up the save in game one, pitched almost five innings in relief to pick up the win in game two, and finished off the series with a dazzling play at third base to get the final out of the series.

“It was scorched and I just felt it hit my glove and I had it and just threw him out,” Lipford said after the big win.

The Braves trailed 6-3 in game two before striking for two runs in the top of the sixth to pull within one at 6-5.

In the bottom of the sixth, another huge defensive play helped tremendously when left fielder Drew Blair fielded a double off the fence and hit the cut-off man shortstop Chandler Polk who fired a perfect strike to Tristan Brown at the plate to nail an Irish runner and end the bottom of the sixth.

Lipford was huge for the Braves in the nightcap coming on in relief of starter Keagan Spradlin and tossing 4.2 innings allowing just four hits and two unearned runs but he was not the only hero.

Senior Zack Stephens (#24) had two big doubles in the sweep of the Irish

Senior Zack Stephens (#24) had two big doubles in the sweep of the Irish

Another junior, second baseman Drew Wulff put down a perfect sacrifice bunt (see video below) that ended up yielding two go-ahead runs in the top of the seventh putting the Braves on top 8-6.

“Before I even talked to him, Drew came up to me and said, ‘Coach, I want to bunt.’ He’s one of our best bunters and all of a sudden first pitch he gets something, puts it down and we score one and they throw it away and we get another one,” Bianco said. “It was big.”

Ethan Brant started the last inning rally with a one-out single and it was followed by back-to-back hits from Drew Blair and Quay Daniel to tie the game for Wulff.

The Irish fought back for a run in the bottom of the seventh and had runners on base when Lipford made the key defensive play of the night. Chandler Polk picked up the save in game two.

“I can’t say enough about Carl Lipford. I bring him in to close out the first one and when Spradlin struggles a little bit and Carl goes in there and just picks him up and throws strikes,” said Bianco. “We bring our closer in for the last inning and there’s Carl again making another great play at third base. I couldn’t be more proud of a kid than Carl. He had an awesome night.”

The story in game one was once again starting pitcher Lee Kay. Kay again was again solid on the mound tossing six plus innings allowing only four hits and two earned runs while striking out three before handing the ball to Lipford for the last three outs.

The sun played a big factor for the Braves in game one as the Dublin right fielder struggled to find the ball on a couple of fly balls that turned into hits.

Ethan Brant, Dakota Christopher, and Zack Hill each had two hits in game one and Zack Stephens also swung the bat well with two doubles on the day.

Catcher Tristan Brown also contributed heavily on both offense and defense with a key RBI single and a nice hustle play to catch a pop up behind the plate at one point in game two. Brown moved to Heard two years ago and has been striving for this moment ever since.

“I mean when I first moved here I knew the baseball team was struggling and all I have dreamed about since I moved here is working and doing everything I can to help my team to get to this point,” said Brown.

“I love it here in Heard County and it’s a great feeling knowing that we can all come together and pick each other up at anytime during the game and do what we need to do to win.”

The Braves now get ready to defend the home field once again as they will next host the winner of the Fitzgerald/Union County series next week with a doubleheader on Tuesday and a third game on Wednesday if necessary.

Fitzgerald and Union split their doubleheader on Wednesday and will face each other in a game three this afternoon to decide the series winner.

Other Class AA teams that advanced with sweeps Tuesday included Lovett, Wesleyan, Gordon Lee, GAC, and Rabun County. Jeff Davis and Darlington also meet in a rubber game today.

The win also makes the baseball team the third Braves team this season to make the state quarterfinals marking the most successful sports season in school history.

Stay tuned to HeardCitizen.com for more information on next week’s big quarterfinal clash as it becomes available.

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