The Darlington baseball team experienced a little deja vu in their doubleheader against Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy on Monday as Game 1 and Game 2 both saw a 3-0 Tiger advantage diminish into a Charger lead.
The difference was that in Game 2, Darlington fought back from a six-run deficit to win, 10-9, splitting the Final-Four Class A-Private School series with ELCA.
“I’d love to say I was surprised,” said Darlington coach Kent Harrison about how his team came back to win, “but a team like ours – we’re gritty, and we battle, and if you’re going to beat us, you’re going have to beat us the full seven innings.”
The Tigers fell in Game 1, 8-3, and will play the decisive Game 3 today at 2 p.m. at ELCA.
Darlington, down 9-3, managed four runs in the fifth — with Alec Redden and Evan Brown collecting two RBIs apiece — to ease the ELCA lead to 9-7, changing the game from a blowout to a nail-biter in one inning.
A solid defensive performance held the No. 1-ranked Class A-Private School Chargers scoreless in the top of the sixth with a strikeout and a skilled double play.
The Tiger offense then battled for two game-tying runs in the bottom of the sixth from a two-run base hit by Brad Butler.
Darlington again kept the ELCA run count at nine and used the seventh inning to score the run needed — with two outs — to win the game and stay in the series.
Burton Dulaney had the game-winning two-out RBI, batting in David Grindstaff.
Harrison attributed the comeback rally largely to the leadership his seniors bring to the team.
“I’ve been talking about our senior leadership all year,” he said, “and when you’ve got seven guys that have poured into a program, they’re not going to let the team get down. They’re not going to let them feel like it’s over.
“We just had to keep battling. That was a good team we beat tonight, and finally we started swinging the bats like I knew we could.”
The first three Tiger runs came in just as memorable a fashion, as they were scored off a three-run homer by Redden in the first inning. Redden ended Game 2 2-for-4 with an intentional walk and five RBIs.
Butler went 3-for-4 with the two game-tying RBIs, and Dulaney went 4-for-5 with a double and the game-winning RBI.
Brown went 2-for-4 and had two RBIs.
Dulaney pitched three innings in Game 2, and Jay Shadday pitched the last three, each giving up seven hits to the powerful Charger offense.
Dulaney struck out one, and Shadday struck out two.
In Game 1, the Tigers scored three runs in each of the first three innings to enter the fifth with a 3-0 edge, looking poised to take the first game of the series.
But two runs plus a three-run homer by Jacob Heyward — younger brother of Atlanta Brave Jason Heyward — erased the Darlington lead in the bottom of the fifth.
Again, the Tigers appeared to have a shot at taking the win in the top of the sixth when all bases were loaded with Tigers with two outs, but a low hit by Butler was caught in the air to end the inning.
The Chargers extended their lead to 8-3 in the bottom of the sixth and rolled to the win by not allowing Darlington on the board in the final inning.
Logan Rice pitched 5 2-3 innings in Game 1, Shadday pitched 1-3 inning, and Hayden Cook pitched the last two innings.
The Tigers have another decisive Game 3 to look forward to today; the game decides whether or Darlington will advance to the state championship for a shot at the title.
“I’m just blown away at the effort and energy I’ve been getting from these guys. It’s been a blast and there is no way we want this to end, and I certainly hope that it doesn’t tomorrow,” said Harrison.
“We’re going to come out strong. We’ve got guys chomping at the bit to get their opportunity to pitch and play, and we’re going to see if we can get it done tomorrow.”