Tuesday’s region baseball matchup between GMC Prep and Wilkinson County at Craig Field saw the lead change hands four times.
In the end, it was the host Bulldogs who got the last laugh as they scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth and held off the Warriors in the seventh to win 8-7.
The visitors from Wilco showed that they were going to be a problem early on by smashing a two-out double into left field in the opening frame. Clean-up hitter Jaden Stevenson was just inches away from bringing that run home with a shot down the third-base line, but GMC senior Mason Seymour dove to his right and made a good throw over to first that kept the Warriors off the scoreboard.
Seymour, after reaching on an infield single, touched home himself in the bottom of the first after Carson Knowles hit into a one-out fielders’ choice to put the home team up 1-0.
The Warriors answered in the second. GMC starting hurler Cody Beckham walked the bases loaded before Altariq Carswell and Martavius Fox smacked singles that together pushed three runs across. Beckham then walked his fourth batter of the inning, causing the GMC coaches to pull him in favor of sophomore Cayden Avant. Avant plunked his first batter faced with two outs and the bases loaded, but righted the ship by inducing a centerfield flyout to get out of trouble. The bases were left full of Warriors, but they had already done significant damage as they were up 4-1.
The score remained the same until the bottom of the fourth when the Bulldogs benefited from a few Wilco errors. Sophomore Christian Black got things started with a one-out single to left before Warrior starter Kanden Vargas issued a couple free passes to load the bases. The visitors threw the ball around the yard a little too much, allowing GMC to re-take the lead at 5-4 after a four-run inning.
Still on the mound in relief, Avant cruised through the fifth with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout to Beckham who had moved over to third. Avant’s teammates would help him out by adding a run in the home half of the fifth, but the Warrior bats started finding holes again in the sixth. They rallied with three straight two-out singles and added three runs aided by an error in left field. That brought on the game’s third lead change as Wilco was now up 7-6 heading into the bottom of the sixth.
In what would be their final turn at the plate, the Bulldogs got the two runs they needed after Seymour and Beckham both worked bases-loaded walks. The visiting fans were unhappy with the home plate umpire’s strike zone at that point, and those inconsistent calls were a big reason GMC Prep head coach Rusty Courson stuck with Avant on the mound as the game went to the final inning.
“I knew that if I brought in another guy he would have to find the strike zone,” Courson said. “Avant had already kind of figured it out.”
That last inning was not without drama, though. With no one out and a runner on first, the Bulldogs took their turn throwing the baseball around only to have it work out in their favor. After a miscue on what should have been a fielders’ choice at second, GMC right fielder Jessie Washington backed the play up and threw out the Wilco runner trying to advance to third, preserving the home team’s one-run lead. A 5-3 putout of the ensuing batter brought the region ballgame to its final scenario — two outs with a runner on second. Rewind back to the bottom of the sixth, GMC freshman Bryce Smith was brought on as a pinch runner, meaning he had to play the field in the seventh. As the baseball often does, it found the freshest glove in the most high-pressure moment of the game. With two outs and the game-tying run on second, the ensuing knock went Smith’s way at second. He fielded the easy grounder cleanly, but in throwing over to first went way high of the mark. Good thing for him and the Bulldogs, the senior first baseman Knowles is every bit of 6-foot-5 with cleats on, and every inch of that height was needed to haul in that throw and save the game.
Avant was strong in relief, throwing 5 and 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and three walks.
“He handled it well,” Courson said of the sophomore righty. “He had a couple of situations where he would change his arm angle, which would make the ball rise, but he figured that out. One thing about Avant is he has zero emotions on the mound. You can hit a two-run homer or he could strike you out and his emotions would stay the same, which is great. He loves a challenge.”
GMC Prep’s six-hole hitter Black led the way with two hits, both line-drive singles to the outfield.
The Bulldogs got another region win Wednesday, 15-5 over Twiggs County, then beat Glascock County 3-2 Thursday. The Glascock win came with a loss too, though, as GMC Prep senior infielder Mason Seymour broke his leg while sliding into second, ending his season prematurely. His production both in the field and at the plate will be very difficult to replace, but the Bulldogs will forge ahead with their next game set for Tuesday at Wilkinson County.