E.A. Sports Today

Tigers survive hard series

Cleburne County takes advantage of early errors by Cherokee County to win series, reach quarterfinals again

By Shannon Fagan
Cherokee County Herald

CENTRE – When it comes to the postseason, mistakes are magnified and good teams exploit them.

Two miscues by Cherokee County in the first two innings led to three Cleburne County runs and that was all pitchers Macain Carlile and Damian Benefield needed in a 5-0 victory that sent the Tigers to the Class 4A quarterfinals.

The Tigers (19-15) now face North Jackson (26-8) next weekend in the best-of-three quarterfinals.

“We had some miscues early, and it will spiral on you in a Game 3,” Cherokee County coach Fran Blanchard said. “In a Game 3, whoever gets that momentum first usually keeps it. It could have been our way if we make the plays. If we could have had a quick inning (in the first and second) and come in, then who knows?”

The Warriors (25-9) appeared to be out of the first inning when Josh Davis struck out swinging for the third out. However, the ball went in the dirt, and Davis alertly ran to first. Warrior catcher Colin Brewer’s throw was late, allowing second baseman Nick Dunston to score the game’s first run.

“We just knew today was about survival,” Cleburne County coach Vaughn Lee said. “That kid (Davis) has been in three quarterfinal series, and he knows what this is all about. I just think all our kids knew what was on the line today.

“It was hard. It was hot. We got home about 12:30 (from Friday’s split), and we got here early today. We were struggling. This has been a tough series for us, but we just tried to worry about survival. That’s been our biggest thing, just worrying about surviving today and surviving this series.”

The miscues continued in the second. The Tigers loaded by bases on two walks and Trevor Houston’s bunt single. Austin Harler’s grounded out brought home Dawson Howle to make it 2-0. Dunston then grounded out to second for the second out of the inning, bringing shortstop Brock Swafford to the plate.

Swafford sent a dribbler to back to pitcher Ethan Johnson, whose throw to first missed the mark, allowing two more runs to score. Swafford was thrown out at second on the play for the final out of the inning, but the Tigers had a 4-0 lead.

Todd Weston’s pinch single in the sixth inning drove in the Tigers’ final run.

“I don’t know what to attribute that to,” Blanchard said of the Warriors’ mental miscues. “I thought we got to the field good this morning. We got our work in, and I felt like everybody was ready to play. We looked good, but it just didn’t transfer over to the game.”

Carlile held Cherokee County scoreless in his 4 2/3 innings of work. He was lifted after the Warriors loaded the bases in the fifth with two outs, but reliever Benefield got Cade Gossett to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the threat.

Benefield retire the side in the sixth and seventh to secure the series. The Warriors managed just three hits in the game — Mason Rodgers’ double and singles by Colin Edwards and Bronson Chandler.

“I was very pleased with our pitching,” Lee said. “Those two guys (Carlile and Benefield) are the Saturday guys who’ve had to face the Oxfords, the tough opponents, and we’ve built them for that. They would have to win a Game 3, a tiebreaker game, if we got in that situation in the area. Carlile and Benefield have been conditioned for that, and they did a great job.”

After reaching the state quarterfinals for the third straight year, Lee said his team is looking to take the next step forward.

“A lot of these kids have been there,” he said. “We were there last year against Oneonta in Game 3 in the sixth inning with the lead and lost it. We’ve been there and done that, so we know what to expect. We’ve just got to worry about us.”

On the cover: Cleburne County starter Macain Carlile delivers a pitch. (Photo by Shannon Fagan)

Cleburne County 5, Cherokee County 0
Cleburne Co. 130 001 0 — 5 7 0
Cherokee Co. 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
WP: Macain Carlile. LP: Ethan Johnson.

Shannon Fagan is sports editor of the Cherokee County Herald.

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