The Valdosta Daily Times
Three weeks ago, the Berrien Rebels blew out the Cook Hornets 13-1. On Tuesday night, the story was completely different.
In one of the most intense baseball rivalries in South Georgia — and it lived up to it Tuesday night — the Rebels scored one run in the fifth, another in the seventh and used a dominating five-hit shutout performance on the hill to secure a 2-0 win over the Hornets.
“I knew after the last game, you don’t get that lucky twice,” Berrien coach Doug Nix said. “I knew for sure it would be a seven inning game. I don’t think that helped us any — beating them that bad last time.”
After having nothing go wrong in the last meeting with the Hornets, the Rebels (15-3, 8-0 in Region 1-AA) found themselves in a pitcher’s dual for five innings, with the two teams combining for just three hits. Then, in the top of the sixth inning, the Rebels got onto the scoreboard.
Travis Branham singled, and advanced to third on a Devonte Bass double. Then, Dalton Ingram flew out to center field, scoring Branham from third base and giving the Rebels a 1-0 lead.
After Cook (11-6, 5-3 Region 1-AA) threatened in the sixth inning, the Rebels added another run in the seventh inning. This time, Logan Balkcom singled to start the inning, scoring two batters later on a single from Branham.
“We have five seniors and they just don’t panic,” Nix said. “They keep going, battling and fighting. We’ve had a little Bible study and we’ve been talking about overcoming obstacles along the way and it seemed like nothing was going our way early."
After taking a 2-0 lead in the top seventh, the Rebels held on in the bottom half of the inning for the win, with pitcher Ashton Sparks finishing a complete game, five-hitter.
“He is a competitor,” Nix said of Sparks. “He hasn’t thrown a lot because he has had a little twinge in his shoulder, so we have rested him a lot. He has pitched some innings, but that is the first he has gone seven. He was able to get ahead in the count and throw his curveball.”
The Hornets had their chances in the game, but failed to take advantage.
In the second inning, Cook’s Mason Wiley singled to start the inning, but was thrown out trying to steal second base. Then, after three straight innings of going in 1-2-3 fashion, the Hornets had a serious chance to muster some offensive production in the sixth inning, trailing 1-0.
Parker Bennett singled, but was too aggressive on the base pads when Zane Folsom singled and he was tagged out at third base Then, Blake Daughtrey was called out on strikes, after originally being issued a walk and having the call reversed, despite an argument from Cook coach Cleve Edwards.
Then, with two outs, Ross Pickle grounded to third and the Hornets’ threat was over.
“I think youth showed for us tonight,” Edwards said. “You have to find a way. We didn’t do that tonight. Our guys are capable of playing with them like that in every ball game….We just didn’t take advantage of some opportunities. That is what it boiled down to for us.”
Berrien made its fair share of mistakes, too.
In the first inning, the Rebels got Ingram, their leadoff batter, to third base, but left him stranded when the Hornets turned a double play off a sacrifice bunt, which the Rebels thought rolled foul and thus stood on base while the Hornets tagged them out.
Then in the second inning, the Rebels left a pair of runners stranded in scoring position, before having a runner be tagged out in the third inning for not running back through second base on a deep fly ball out.
“It just seemed like every time we got something rolling we were snake bit,” Nix said.
At the end of the day, Edwards was complimentary of both teams and, more importantly, how his young Hornets, including the four freshmen that started Tuesday night, played against the experienced Rebels.
“I’m proud of our kids, for sure,” Edwards said. “(Berrien) has got a good ball team. We knew that coming in. It came down to what team made the fewest mistakes, and we made a few more tonight. A few mistakes hurt us tonight.”
Edwards was also complimentary of both pitchers, saying, “Both guys pitched their tails off.”
Despite taking the loss, Cook’s Stanton Moore allowed just two runs on six hits in 6 2/3 innings pitched.