MACON — The Darlington Tigers knew what was on the line Thursday when they traveled to Macon to take First Presbyterian Day in the second round of the Class A Private School state playoffs — either the end of their season or the Final Four.
After splitting with FPD on Wednesday, the Tigers used a sixth-inning comeback rally to reclaim the lead, followed by shutting the Vikings out in the seventh, to win the game, 7-4, thus winning the series and advancing to the third round. Darlington will travel to Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy — the No. 1 ranked team in the Class A Private power rankings — Monday at 4 p.m.
“This is awesome,” said Darlington coach Kent Harrison. “(It) means a lot, and I’m just proud of the whole program and proud of these guys.”
The list of game-saving heros in Game 3 on the Darlington roster is long, but the sixth inning is really when the entire Tiger lineup stepped up.
After the Tigers led the whole game, the Vikings scored two runs in the top of the sixth to take a 4-3 lead. With the momentum shift, the Tigers were on the edge of seeing their season come to an end.
But the Tigers certainly didn’t feel it was over just yet. Evan Brown led off the sixth with a single to center, and then senior Breck Trillery nailed a double to left to give the Tigers hope with two runners on and no outs.
Drake Frix — a freshman — then smoked a double to left to knock in both runs and put the Tigers back on top 5-4.
“I felt good (going up to the plate),” said Frix. “I had already faced (the pitcher), and I was ready to go up there and hit. I like being up to bat in that situation.”
Harrison noted that Frix is just the right hitter for a high-pressure situation like Thursday’s sixth inning.
“That’s a big hit for a freshman,” he said. “He’s clutch and he’s been that way all year. That was just heart. You put a kid like that in that situation, he’s going to produce.”
David Grindstaff delivered his third hit of the day to keep the rally alive. Burton Dulaney drove in the third run of the inning on single, and then the Tigers would plate one more run in the inning to take a 7-4 lead with just three outs to go to clinch the spot in the Final Four.
“When you have seven seniors that have battled for you their entire career there is no way a group like that is going to let the dugout be down or feel like it’s over,” said Harrison.
“When Burton is on the mound we feel great,” he added. “He was fantastic again (Thursday), and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Another hero that stepped up is freshman pitcher Jay Shadday, who delivered a gem on the mound to keep the Tigers in command of the game and keep them in it for the late inning dramatic comeback.
After the Tigers scored two runs in the top of the first, Shadday went to work and gave the Tigers five-plus solid innings, giving up three hits, four walks and four runs while striking out nine.
“I was a little nervous going into my first playoff experience and starting,” said Shadday, “but I felt great, and my dugout kept me in it, and it felt great being out there.
“I got out there (and) struck the first guy out, and that relaxed my nerves, and I felt a lot better after that.”
15 total Tiger players played in the decisive Game 3, and it took all them to notch Darlington’s spot in the third round.
“15 different players got in the ball game and that says it all,” said Harrison. “It was a team effort and FPD is a great group, and they battled, but luckily for us, we got a couple of big hits.”
In Harrison’s coaching career, his teams, in baseball or softball, have never lost a decisive Game 3, a streak that was extended with Thursday’s win.
“The streak is one that I enjoy,” said Harrison, smiling. “I’d love to never have to play another Game 3 again, and I would love to win it in two, but if we’re going to go a Game 3, my kids are gritty, and I’ll take them to war with me any day.”
Harrison noted how satisfying it is to see his teams Final-Four goal come to fruition, with not only he help of the currect team, but with the help of teams past.
“This was a goal we set a long time ago, and not just with these young men. It started years ago with a dream, a lot of energy and a lot of effort,” he said.
“There has been countless people pour in (support), and this is the group to get it done.
We’re not done yet. This was one of our goals, but this was not the goal.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Harrison added. “If you’re in the Final Four, you’re close enough to see the championship, but you’re also running into some great competition.”