The Varsity Baseball team returned to Region 6-AAAAA play following spring break with a three-game series vs. Lithia Springs.
Game 1, Tuesday, April 11 at Riverwood
The Raiders hosted game one of the Lithia Springs series Tuesday, April 11. The Raiders were coming off Spring Break and had trouble shaking the sand out of their flip flops. Despite Sophomore starting pitcher Brett Thomas's three shut-out innings, the Raider offense only managed to put together a couple of scattered hits and no runs in the first three frames.
In the top of the fourth, the Lions erupted and the Raiders had no coherent defense. Six hits, three walks, and an error turned into the Raider's most hapless inning of the year. Lithia Springs plated ten runs and looked to be headed for a run-rule victory on the Raider home field. Continuing their misery in the bottom of the fourth, the Raider bats could not generate a run. Things got worse in the top of the fifth when the Lion's added one more run and stretched the lead to 11-zip. It was dire. The Raiders had only nine outs remaining. Frankly, it seemed like an ugly loss was inevitable.
But these Raiders…well….they are not wired to think of a loss as inevitable.
In the top of the sixth, Junior pitcher Jordan McCord came to the mound throwing heat and sharp breaking balls. Just two innings before, Lithia Springs was confidently squaring up everything, but McCord served notice that this night's lousy momentum was changing. When McCord walked off the mound, the Lion batters had been twisted into knots fighting off sliders in the dirt and, on the other side of the diamond, McCord's confidence turned up the volume in the Raider dugout. Despite the deep hole, the Raiders did not despair.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Raiders fully seized the emotion and the momentum with seven hits, including five straight by Tobia, Hope, Beckley (triple), Vainer (triple), and Castro. While exciting, even the back-to-back triples were not the biggest blows of the comeback. With the score standing 11-9, starting pitcher Brett Thomas, who had been chased in the fourth inning, re-entered the game as a pinch hitter. Peter Duncan (running for Castro) was standing on third base. Thomas may have been smarting from the Lion's mistreatment of him earlier; whatever was his frame of mind, he appeared ready to take it out on the baseball. His rip at the first pitch was off balance, but when the Lithia Springs pitcher came back with a fastball over the plate, Thomas turned on it wickedly and the ball soared into the construction zone far beyond the left field fence. The entire team spilled from the Raider dugout to join Duncan and greet Thomas as he grinned his way through his homerun trot to the celebration that awaited. Although the game was tied 11-11 after six complete innings, the outcome really did not seem to be in doubt due to the enormous momentum swing.
Ben Miller relieved McCord in the top of the seventh. After taking a couple of pitches to get back to his pre-Spring Break form, the cool Miller set down the Lions in order and buried any hopes they may have harbored. In the bottom of the inning, Brandon Moore led off with a hot grounder which was mishandled at first, and then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Tobia then laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the swift Moore over to third with only one out. This brought Patrick Hope to the plate. After his frightening slash at the first pitch, the Lions realized the game was in jeopardy and intentionally walked him. So, the Lions had to make a decision. Did they pitch to John Beckley, one of the most fearsome hitters in the region? No way. In a moment of desperate clarity, the Lion's coaching staff took the unusual step of intentionally walking Beckley behind Hope to load the bases, to set up a force at home and a double play.
While the Raider lineup has been difficult for any pitcher to get through unharmed, few hitters anywhere in the state have been hotter than Dawson Vainer over the last ten games. When Vainer stepped into the right-hand batters' box, no one doubted he was going to be the Raiders' final hero. Vainer lost no time, lined another screamer into the gap, and Moore strolled home for the game winning run. The comeback complete. Game one final score: Raiders 12, Lions 11
Game 2, Wednesday, April 12 at Lithia Springs - rained out
Game 2, Friday, April 14 at Riverwood (with Lithia Springs as the home team)
The Raiders traveled to Lithia Springs for game two; however, rain washed out the game in the second inning. Game two started over on Friday at Raider Park with the Lions as the home team. The Raiders, who played this game as the visitor, wasted no time in scoring six runs in the opening frame. After Brandon Moore led off with a base on balls, Patrick Hope started a string of hits in the inning with a single to drive Moore home. Following Hope with first inning hits were clean-up hitter John Beckley; powerful DH Brett Thomas (triple); the sizzling hot Dawson Vainer; a surging Arthur "Scoot" Burrell, and the team's unstoppable lead-off man, Brandon Moore.
In the bottom of the inning, starter Coleman Flom wrestled with a wounded thumb but was able to keep the Lions from scoring. Pitching with the bases loaded, Flom induced a grounder to third baseman Joseph Tobia which started a rare 5-2-3 double play. Tobia threw home to record the second out, catcher Harris Beckley alertly touched the plate, and then rifled the ball to Hope at first, beating the batter by a full step.
Flom was never in trouble again and, after virtually every Raider in the line up stacked hits and runs like firewood over the next three innings, Senior Ben Miller came on to pitch the bottom of the fourth with a 15 run lead. Miller struck out the side on 14 pitches and the umpires called the game. Game two final score: Raiders 15, Lions 0 in four innings
Game 3, Friday, April 14 at Riverwood (with the Raiders as the home team)
Before the second game of the doubleheader and the final game of the series, the Raiders honored their 11 seniors on the field with their parents and families. Congratulations to the Class of 2017 Varsity Baseball players: Arthur Burrell, John Beckley, Erick Castro, Coleman Flom, Bobby and Patrick Hope, Ben Miller, Brandon Moore, Mikey O'Connell, Joseph Tobia, and Dawson Vainer.
Not wanting to disappoint on this nostalgic evening, starting pitcher Mikey O'Connell shut down the Lions in order in the top of the first inning. In the bottom of the inning, Joseph Tobia and John Beckley both singled and scored to grab the Raiders a quick two-run lead.
In inning two, O'Connell continued to dominate, striking out three and walking only one. His always dangerous breaking ball proved to be impossible for the hitters to put in play. In the bottom of the second, Bobby Hope set the tone with a drive in the left field gap which he legged out for a triple. Brandon Moore and Joseph Tobia followed the triple with back-to-back line drive singles. Patrick Hope, John Beckley, and Brett Thomas kept it going with three consecutive doubles. After the dust settled, the Raiders led 7-0.
In the top of the third, O'Connell struck out two more batters and the Lions managed to generate one baserunner, who reached on an error. The Raider offense continued to pour it on the bottom of the inning when Arthur Burrell tripled home Bobby Hope; Burrell then scored along with Brandon Moore on Patrick Hope's line drive to left field.
Chase Wilborn (who was also recognized before the game as one of Lithia Springs' seniors) spoiled O'Connell's no-hitter in the fourth inning when he laid down a perfect bunt up the third base line. Tobia made a great effort to preserve the no-hitter, but this one was a hit from the moment it touched the bat. Nevertheless, O'Connell was completely un-phased and struck out the next three batters to finish his brilliant work for the night.
With a 10-0 lead in the 4th, the Raiders saw the opportunity to close out the game early if they could add five runs in the bottom half of the frame. However, two quick outs sandwiched a single by Erick Castro; it looked as if the game might go into a fifth inning. With two outs, Burrell singled hard to short; Brandon Moore did the same; Tobia and Patrick Hope both walked; and John Beckley cracked a line-drive double to left field. With a 14-run lead, Patrick Hope on third, and Beckely on second, Brett Thomas ended the game with a single to right field allowing Hope to jog home and close out the game. It was a beautiful night where just as many memories were made at Raider Park as there were on opening night at that other new baseball park down the street. Game two final score: Raiders 15, Lions 0 in four innings
The Raiders begin a three-game series vs. Decatur on Monday, April 17th. It is the final region match-up of the regular season. At the time of this publication, Decatur is at the top of the region standings and the Raiders will need to take two of the three games to earn the Region 6-AAAAA title. The first pitch of Monday's game is at 5:55pm at McCoy Park (view schedule)
Senior Night thoughts from a parent: The Class of 2017 has been teammates and rivals for over a decade in programs at NYO, Ridgeview Middle School, Ninth Inning Baseball, Marquis Grissom Baseball, 6-4-3 Baseball, Terrapins Baseball, and, finally, playing together as Raiders. Parents, think of all the swimming parties, the pizzas, the sunburns, and the hundreds of miles travelled to remote baseball fields. How many trips must this extended family have taken to Emerson, Fort Myers, Panama City, or Myrtle Beach? How many pounds of East Cobb infield dirt has this crowd washed out of uniforms? How many spring breaks and vacations have we tried to squeeze in between baseball tournaments and practices?
And now, these young men we love compete for the pride of Riverwood. They drive the family cars. Girls are in the stands to watch. College plans are being made. Graduation is just weeks away. We step back and we admire the men our sons are becoming. These men, who we have watched play baseball since the days when their perfect, gap-toothed grins were missing baby-teeth. Can this really be drawing to a close?
And so, with that on their minds, the senior mom's threw 11 first pitch strikes. And memories of the men of the 2017 Class hung thick in air.