After dropping Game 1 to the Dominion Christian Knights 8-4 Friday, John Milledge faced a steep climb to a GISA AAA state championship title in the best-of-three series at Mercer University’s Claude Smith Field, with two must-win games Saturday. In Game 2 of the series, the Trojans cruised to an 8-4 win after an explosive three-run third inning but ultimately came up short 2-1 in a defense-heavy Game 3.
“You lose Game 1, and you gotta think about it for a little while and you gotta come back. They had a great pitching setup in their rotation. We had to go all out for Game 2, to force a Game 3 and that’s what we did,” said JMA head coach Andy Bonifay after the series.
JMA’s top pitcher Jacob Prestwood got the start in Game 2 after throwing six innings in Game 1 but had to come out after two innings with the game tied 1-1 due to a mandated pitch count of 120. Jackson Carter got the job done throwing five innings in relief and Jared Prestwood and Seth Bowden both had RBI singles in the third when the Trojans took the lead for good.
First pitch for Game 3 was at 8:15 p.m. and finished under the lights in nail-biting fashion. Lefty hurler Brandon Bellflower got the start after having closed Game 2, but still had a ways to go before reaching the mandated 120-pitch limit.
After struggling in the first with three consecutive one-out walks, Bellflower limited the damage to one run on a sacrifice fly to right and went on to hold the Knights scoreless until he had to be pulled for pitch count in the fifth inning.
“Game 1, we went with our number one and it didn’t go our way and had to use some relief help. Game 2, we were in a situation where we wanted to keep pitch counts available for Game 3, with the pitch count rules,” Bonifay said. “And we were able to maximize Bellflower to 120 in Game 3. Then we brought Carter in and got to a situation where we’re just mixing guys trying to maximize matchups.”
The Trojans scored their lone run in the bottom of the first when Jared Prestwood hit into a double play with the bases loaded and no outs, scoring Taylor Dixon from third.
Defense dominated for the remainder of the game.
Coming in to replace Bellflower on the mound, Jackson Carter inherited a runner on second with two outs in the fifth. When Dominion’s shortstop Zayd Brannigan hit a line shot into center Jacob Prestwood fielded it on the run and threw out Logan Ehorn as he tried to score from second, ending the inning.
Carter recorded two fly outs to start the sixth but gave up a single to the Knights’ eight batter, Ashton Whittaker. Whittaker tried to steal on the lefty and Carter threw the ball to now-first baseman Bellflower, appearing to have Whittaker dead to rights. Whitaker continued toward second and Bellflower’s otherwise accurate throw bounced off his helmet and caromed off into left field. Dominion’s ninth batter Hunter Whittaker then came up with the games only extra-base hit with a double to left-center, giving the Knights the lead. Dominion’s leadoff hitter Rafael Jackson reached on a dropped third strike, and Jared Prestwood came in to pitch with runners on first and third, forcing a fly out to end the inning.
JMA got its final chance in the bottom of the seventh, still down 2-1. With two outs and nobody on base, Dixon sparked some hope with a single to right field, notching his third hit of the decisive Game 3. Bellflower then smoked a ball that moved faster than the Dominion second baseman's reaction time and made its way into the outfield. With two runners on and a walk-off in reach, the Trojans were unable to produce. Dominion’s third baseman field a chopper in the air and stepped on to third to end the game as his teammates rushed the field.
“We knew if we got a Game 3, there’s always a chance,” said Bonifay. “That was just 18 competitors out there just competing, and more. And you know, it just didn’t go our way.”