ROCKMART — After splitting a doubleheader to open their Class AA second round series with Elbert County, the Rockmart Yellow Jackets knew they would need to pull together one more solid outing to keep their season alive.
Despite some worrisome later innings, it was Rockmart from start to finish in Friday’s decisive Game 3 to punch its ticket to the Elite Eight.
Griffin Pace threw five innings and scattered five hits to give the Jackets the foundation on the mound they needed to pull off a 10-6 win over the visiting Blue Devils to return to the state quarterfinals for the second time in three years.
“It’s great. I’m really proud of the kids. They’re really resilient,” Rockmart head coach Kenny Yanzetich said after the victory. “They never dropped their heads after getting beat in Game 1. And Ty (Floyd) threw a heck of a ballgame for us last night.”
It was Floyd’s dominating performance on the mound in Game 2 on Thursday that set the stage for Friday’s rubber game. The junior threw a no-hitter while striking out 13 in a complete game 5-0 win that wrapped up late in the night.
Floyd continue to contribute on Friday, this time at the plate as he went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and was part of a three-run third inning for the Jackets that built a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the game.
Dylan Bailey and Brayden Cole had multiple hits for Rockmart, with Cole recording two RBIs, while Reed Couch finished with three RBIs. Pace struck out four in his start Friday, picking up the win while allowing just two earned runs and no walks.
“Griffin is our senior lefty and has been our big game guy all year long. He’s pitched against some tough opponents, so this was nothing new to him,” Yanzetich said. “He’s a state champion wrestler and the kid’s got a great heart. He went out and did a great job.”
The game pitted two top teams against each other, with Rockmart (24-7) ranked second in Class AA by Score Atlanta and Elbert ranked ninth.
Bailey had an RBI triple in the fourth inning and then scored on a single by Cole to center field to put the Jackets up 6-0. But Elbert County (20-14-1) got on the board in the bottom of the frame, using a two-run shot by Daniel Lavender over the left field fence to try and start a rally.
The Blue Devils would go 1-2-3 to end the inning and Pace would settle down further in the fifth by striking out the first two batters and facing just four in the inning.
“He kept battling and working ahead in the count, and he set the tone. When we scored a run in the first, he comes in and goes 1-2-3, and that’s huge,” Yanzetich said.
Elbert pushed across three runs in the sixth after Cole came on in relief. He was replaced by Logan Shelton after 1/3 inning. The first batter into Shelton’s appearance sent a hit straight to Evan Ratcliff at first who then tagged the base to catch the runner off for an unassisted double play to end the inning.
With their lead shrunk to 8-5, Rockmart was down to its last out in the top of the seventh when Bailey drew a walk and pinch runner Sam Sanders took second on a passed ball. Cole then got some redemption with a double to left field to bring in Sanders.
Cole then scored when Floyd hit a line drive to left and the throw home went wide of the plate.
“We just needed to string some hits together,” Yanzetich said. “We hadn’t done that too much in this series and we did. We scored two big runs there in the top of the seventh with two outs. We took advantage of some of their mistakes. We ran the bases a little better today.”
Rockmart will host Region 4-AA champion Harlem in a doubleheader on Wednesday in the Class AA Elite Eight. Harlem defeated Vidalia 11-1 in that series’ decisive Game 3 on Friday.
“I’m excited about it,” Yanzetich said of the quarterfinal series. “We get to play at home in front of our community, and you can’t ask for anything more.”