The Valdosta Daily Times
Henry Hoff had just five recorded at-bats this season, with no hits. He picked a good time for his first hit of the season.
The junior pitcher delivered the game-winning single in the top of the ninth inning to propel Lowndes’ baseball team past Hillgrove, earning a first round sweep Friday night at Noel George Field.
After winning game one 1-0, after recording just two hits, Lowndes blew a three-run lead in game two, only to see Hoff deliver in the ninth inning, sending his single up the middle to score Cam Buescher, who reached base on a double.
Buescher’s run gave Lowndes a 4-3 lead, which was later extended to a 5-3 lead when Nic Higgonbotham, who pinch-ran for Hoff at second, scored on a wild pitch and throwing error by the catcher.
“That is probably Hoff’s fourth at-bat of the year,” Lowndes head coach Danny Redshaw joked. “That is good coaching.”
Then, Hoff delivered in the bottom of the ninth inning, retiring the Hawks in 1-2-3 fashion to earn the win on the hill, securing the Vikings’ 5-3 victory and first round sweep.
Lowndes (19-9) advances to the second round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs, where it will face either Alcovy or Westlake Wednesday night at Noel George Field.
“The kids just battled and responded,” Redshaw said. “I am proud of them. That is a good baseball team we just beat right there.”
In both games, Lowndes used impressive pitching performances from starters Cory Pope and Logan Hutchinson to limit the Hawks, while the Vikings’ offense struggled throughout both games.
“You have to start with Cory Pope and Logan Hutchinson,” Redshaw said. “I said all along, I told our kids, ‘These are going to be one-run games. The team that make the fewest mistakes are going to win.’ You have to start with our pitching, we played solid defense.”
Pope went all seven innings in Lowndes’ game one victory, allowed no runs on just two hits while striking out just two and walking five.
Hutchinson allowed three runs on 10 hits while striking out eight. He was pulled after the seventh inning when Hillgrove scored the game-tying run.
While it was Hoff who delivered the game-winning run in the ninth, it was Buescher who carried the load throughout both games. Serving as the designated hitter Friday, and not playing at his customary first base because of a back injury, Buescher drove in four of Lowndes’ six runs and pounded out three doubles and hit a home run on the night.
“Cam Buescher flat swung the ball,” Redshaw said. “If you had to paraphrase the game in one sentence, that would be it....Buescher’s back is hurting. I guess we need to hurt his back more often, if he is going to swing it like that.”
In game one, Pope cruised through the Hillgrove lineup, only getting into trouble in the fourth inning, when the Hawks had a pair of runners on base. Then, with a pair of runners on base and two outs, a deep fly ball was driven to left centerfield, looking like a run was going to score.
But, Garrett Fuller left his feet and went diving into the hole, making a catch normally seen on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” keeping the game scoreless and ending the inning.
“That might have been the play that won the series for us,” Redshaw said, of the play. “Great play.”
Off the momentum from Fuller’s catch, Lowndes scored its only run of the game when Josh Day reached base after being hit by a pitch. He scored on a two-out RBI double by Buescher.
In the second game, Lowndes took a 3-0 lead in the first inning when Buescher connected on a home run over the left field fence. Day and Buck Carter scored on the home run, after reaching on a single and walk, respectively.
Hillgrove came back to score two runs in the third inning, using four hits in the inning off Hutchinson.
Lowndes held on to its 3-2 lead until the seventh inning, getting as close as one out away.
Then, Hillgrove started the bottom seventh with a groundout, a single and a strikeout — which the Hawks coaches argued for several minutes. The strikeout didn’t matter, though. The Hawks got an RBI single into the outfield to score the game-tying run, making the score 3-3.