EMERSON, Ga. – Pitching is the one thing that every successful baseball team needs. It does not matter if a team can score runs. If they cannot pitch and play defense, more times than not, they will lose. The game starts and ends on the hill.
Throughout the first week of games at Perfect Game Park South @ LakePoint, we have seen some tremendous pitching outings. Individual pitchers have tossed perfect games and no-hitters to help their respective teams to victory. But, not until today have we seen a pitcher’s dual like the one that was on display in the 15u PG/EC Invitational playoff game between the Sandy Plains Wildcats 15u and Rebels Baseball.
The Rebels Baseball team came into the game as the number five seed after sweeping through their pool and allowing only four total runs in three games. The Sandy Plains Wildcats 15u, on the other hand, entered the game as the number twelve seed and as somewhat of an underdog. After going 2-1 in their pool, they came out as the winner of the pool, edging out Team Citius-Turner and the Team Avenue Aces, who also went 2-1, on the runs allowed tiebreaker.
The story of the ballgame was that whoever scored first would win the game. This was the case because of the strong pitching outings put in by the Wildcats starter Connor Durham and the Rebels starter Cole Wilcox. Heading into the fifth inning, both pitchers had a perfect game working. Neither team could break through on offense, and the pitchers went stride for stride with each other.
“I try to leave him alone,” said Sandy Plains head coach Dennis Yancey regarding his pitcher. “It’s kind of like when you got a no-hitter or something going, you just kind of walk away from him. I try not to say much.”
The top of the fifth inning saw the Wildcats breakthrough on Wilcox with back-to-back doubles by Spencer Dickey and Brandon Allen, which saw Sandy Plains take a 1-0 lead. In the bottom of the fifth, the Rebels used three consecutive hits to load the bases on Durham. But, a 4-6-3 double play ended the threat. As Durham went out for the bottom of the seventh inning, the 1-0 lead was still in tact. The Rebels baseball team got the leadoff runner on, but a base running mistake led to the first out being made at third base. And, with the tying run on third base and two outs, Durham struck out the final hitter and secured the victory for Sandy Plains.
“Connor Durham is our number one pitcher; one slash two,” said Yancey. “I got a couple of guys about the same. He’s just money every time out. He goes deep into the game. He’ll go five; six, and today he went seven. He just had his rhythm mixing up great pitches with his fastball and his curveball.”
The outing by Durham was nothing short of phenomenal, but the play by catcher Zach Norman was monumental as well. On multiple occasions in the final three innings, Norman put his body in front of pitches in the dirt and prevented runners from advancing. With a great deal of pressure on the team in the bottom of the seventh inning, Norman blocked two pitches in the dirt with a runner on third base to save the tying run from scoring.
“He’s one of the hardest working catchers I’ve ever had,” Yancey admitted. “I’m a catching instructor, and he’s one of the hardest catchers I’ve had work behind there. He very seldom lets too much get by him. He just did a great job. He saved us at least one or two runs today.”
Throughout the game, the Wildcat hitters were unable to do much against the hard-throwing Wilcox, who topped out at 85 mph during the game. But, when they needed the big hit, they got it. Learning how to adjust and change their approach at the plate during the ballgame ultimately benefitted the boys from Sandy Plains.
“The big thing there [when facing a fast pitcher] is we got to have quick hands to the ball, and we work on that a lot in practice because if you drop your hands with someone throwing that hard you are not going to catch up,” explained Yancey. “So, we really work hard on staying on top of the baseball.
The win advanced the team to the quarterfinal round of the tournament. After being tested throughout pool play and against Rebels Baseball, the team feels confident in their ability against any team. Their starting pitcher will be a guy who is coming off of his own complete game, which he won 2-1 last week against Team Easton. Yancey’s advice to him after the game this morning: “[go] home and get some rest and come back ready to go.”
The Wildcats know that as they continue to go deeper in the tournament, the games will not get any easier. Some of the best teams in the country are playing in this event, and for Sandy Plains to win the championship; they must continue to play the way they have been playing all week. Most of all, they must continue to pitch the way they have been. If their pitchers continue to excel, it will be hard to beat this scrappy bunch.