December 5, 2020

Sweep 16! Braves Send Bears into Hibernation

(Franklin) — The Heard County Braves baseball team continued to stay hot Friday afternoon sweeping the Golden Bears of Holy Innocents’ in a doubleheader to land a spot in the Sweet 16 round of the GHSA Class-AA State Playoffs.

Many around the state considered the Braves to be a sizable underdog to the fourth seeded squad from the Atlanta private school region, but the Braves used timely hitting and solid starting pitching to overcome those alleged odds winning an exciting game one 7-6 in extra innings before eliminating the Bears completely 10-4 in the nightcap.

Both teams refused to say die in game one where it appeared the home team would run away with the contest before a huge Bear comeback.

The Braves led 6-0 entering the sixth inning fueled by another strong performance from sophomore Lee Kay before the Bears battled back.

After pitching five and two-third innings of no-hit baseball Kay finally got tagged for three hits and a run before handing the ball over to the bullpen. The Bears put five on the board in the top of the seventh to force extra innings.

In the bottom of the eighth the Braves used back-to-back hits by Lee Kay and Dakota Christopher to set up the game winning run.

Senior Zack Stephens laid down a nice sacrifice bunt to move the game winning run within 90 feet of pay dirt and the Bears intentionally walked Chandler Polk to load the bases for sophomore Ethan Brant.

Brant continued his clutch hitting banging out a chopper that the Bear first baseman was unable to handle giving the Braves the walk-off 7-6 win and a lot of momentum heading into game two. Brant had two hits and two RBI’s in the game.

Senior Dakota Christopher had a big day offensively with three hits including an opposite field solo home run in the bottom of the fourth.

Drew Blair also had a big hit when he doubled home Stephens and Brant in the bottom of the third. Tristan Brown, Kay, Stephens, and Quay Daniel all had two hit games.

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Daniel also had an important moment in the field throwing a Bear runner out at the plate from his center field spot.

In game two, Coach Bianco handed to the ball to his top pitcher this season, junior Keagan Spradlin who did not disappoint.

Spradlin tossed a compete game allowing four runs and striking out four in the 10-4 Braves win. Spradlin threw 101 pitches and only walked one batter.

“Spradlin has been our No. 1 for a reason this year. He’s going to go out and throw strikes and keep us in the game,” said head coach Trent Bianco. “I think there were times where he didn’t have his best stuff tonight but he just kept battling — that’s why he’s been our best.”

In a team effort at the plate, every Brave player in the line-up contributed at least a hit, an RBI, or a run scored in the nightcap. Kay, Christopher, Polk, and Daniel each had two hits while Kay and Stephens each drove in two.

The Braves broke the game open with four in the top of the fourth inning after each squad had scored two early on.

“Could not be prouder of our kids right now,” said Bianco. “Our M.O. all year has been to keep fighting. Even after they came back and scored five to tie us in that first game, our kids just kept going — these kids are playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

The Braves (17-8) advance to round two for the first time since 2011 where they will host the Dublin Fighting Irish from Laurens County.

The Irish (20-9) come in as the second seed from Region 3-AA. The best-of-three series will feature a doubleheader at HHS on Wednesday (Time TBA) with a game three on Thursday if necessary.

The Braves were the only team from Region 5-AA to survive round one as Bowdon, Bremen, and Manchester were each swept by the strong Region 6-AA private schools.

Confirmed Class AA teams advancing to the sweet 16 on Friday included the Braves, Wesleyan, GAC, Lovett, Fitzgerald, Rabun County, Harlem, Bacon County, Darlington, Benedictine, and Gordon Lee.


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