COLUMBUS -- Thanks to a seven-run inning and the thrift of Muscogee County taxpayers, Lowndes High's baseball season has been extended by at least one more day.
After being hammered 10-2 by Hardaway in Wednesday's opening second-round GHSA Class AAAAA tournament game, the Vikings erupted for three home runs in the bottom of the fourth to take an 8-4 lead in Game 2. The Hawks rallied to force an 8-8 tie and extra innings before play was called on the unlit field shortly before 8:30 p.m.
The game will resume in the top of the ninth inning today at 2 p.m. A third and deciding game, if necessary, will follow immediately.
"We showed some guts, and showed some character in battling back," said Lowndes coach Danny Redshaw. "We've got a chance to win this thing. If we can just play like we know a little bit abut baseball, we'll be fine."
Indeed, for 3 1/2 innings it looked as if the sun was setting on the Vikings' season. Playing as the visiting team, the Hawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first and led 4-1 entering the bottom of the fourth. But an incident the previous inning finally shook LHS out of its day-long doldrums. Leadoff hitter Brandon Ponder appeared to foul a ball off his foot, but the ball was ruled live and the junior was tagged out at first. Assistant coach Joe Mederos was ejected for arguing the call and Redshaw spent several heated minutes touring the diamond to argue the call with each member of the three-man umpiring crew.
"I thought we had about three calls in a row that were questionable," Redshaw said. "I think the kids got fired up."
With one away in the fourth, Jacob Jarvis and Will Thompson both reached on throws that pulled Hardaway first baseman Kade Cullefer wide of the bag. Nick Copeland reached on a fielder's choice to score courtesy runner Britt Jones and cut the Lowndes deficit to 4-2.
Sensing an opening, Redshaw gambled by sending up Yancey Hartman as a pinch hitter. The junior delivered the biggest possible jackpot, a two-run homer to left that tied the game.
"That was the turning point," said Redshaw. "It got the kids fired up and got us back in the ball game."
But wait, there's more.
Ponder came to the plate and connected on his only hit of the day, a solo shot to left that gave Lowndes its first lead of the series at 5-4. Following a Barrett Wilkes double and an intentional walk to Buck Cargile, designated hitter Blake Bonner hit a three-run blast to deepest center field for an 8-4 advantage.
Hardaway churned out a pair of runs in the fifth and sixth innings to tie the game. The Vikings had runners on first and second before a double play ended the bottom of the seventh, and Buck Cargile's eighth-inning effort was caught at the center field warning track for the last play of Wednesday's action.
The series winner will host a quarterfinal matchup beginning Monday against either Marietta-Walton or Kennesaw-Harrison.
Game 1: Hardaway 10, Lowndes 2
Hawks pitcher Brent Benefield kept his record perfect on the season with a dominating one hit, 13 strikeout performance.
Following six straight Benefield strikeouts, Luke Taylor drew a third-inning walk and later scored on a Wilkes sacrifice to tie the game at 1-1. But Dan Mackie hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the inning to put Hardaway (27-2) ahead for good, as the Hawks won their 20th straight contest.
But it was Benefield's six-inning masterpiece that had radar guns humming and tongues wagging.
"I thought he threw better today than when we saw him a month ago," said Redshaw.
The senior Georgia signee allowed two runs neither earned -- on five walks and a Bowen Corbett single in the top of the sixth.
Matt McCullar's sacrifice scored Jones in the top of the sixth. Shawn Riddle had a pinch-hit single off reliever Steve Wallace for the Vikings' only other hit.
Taylor (7-4) lasted 3 2/3 innings for Lowndes, giving up seven runs -- six earned -- on five hits, five walks and a hit batter while striking out one.
Benefield also homered in the bottom of the fifth and finished 2-for-3 f
or the Hawks. Mackie ended the game 2-for-2, while Johnny Webster was 2-for-2 with a double and two RBIs. Ryan Earnest went 2-for-3 with a double.
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