GHSA Playoffs: Thomas County Central Squeezes by Wayne County

Phil Kerber
PBR Florida/JUCO Wire

- It took a pivotal winner-take-all game three between Class 5A foes Wayne Co. and Thomas Co. Central to decide whos season would continue and who would be sent home. Game one belonged to Thomas Co. Central as they controlled the game from start to finish in route to their 6-1 victory. Game two was the exact opposite with Wayne Co. taking it 8-2,  making Thomas Co. Central pay for their self-inflicted errors. Game three turned into exactly what you would expect from a win or go home matchup. Tight defense and even better pitching helped Thomas Co. Central leave Wayne Co. with a decisive 1-0 victory and the 2-1 series win, punching their ticket to the quarterfinals, where Loganville awaits.

We were on-hand for the first two games of the series, so let’s break down all the action from the critical game’s one and two.

Game one pitted Augusta recruit RHP Brice Miller (Wayne Co.) versus Abraham Baldwin (ABAC) recruit RHP RJ Delaney (Thomas Co. Central). Miller and Delaney both cruised through their first two innings of work. Miller sent the first six Thomas Co. Central batters in order. The long, lanky right-hander worked 82-84 with his fastball, throwing a high volume of strikes with the pitch.Miller complimented his fastball with a slurve-like breaking ball, flashing sharp action, ranging 64-69 mph.

Opposite of Miller was Delaney. A lean, athletic pitching prospect, Delaney used a high level of pitchability to work around the Wayne Co. offense all afternoon. He was able to command three pitches (fastball, slider, and curveball) for strikes. Delaney’s fastball played at 81-83 with armside run and sink. What separated him on this afternoon was his ability to spin both a slider and curveball.

Thomas Co. Central were finally able to break Miller in the third inning. ABAC recruit 3B Pace Mercer led the inning off with a double down the right field line. Miller was able to get the next two batters to ground out, giving Wayne Co. hope of escaping the inning unharmed. SS Zach Fletcher, an East Georgia recruit had other plans. The leadoff hitter drove the ball to the opposite field for an RBI single, giving Thomas Co. Central the 1-0 lead.

Thomas Co. Central extended their lead in the fourth, taking advantage of a number of miscues by Wayne Co.. C Slade Taylor led off with a single up the middle. What followed would be the difference maker for Thomas Co. Central. Miller issued a walk to Delaney before getting a strikeout, putting men on first and second with one out. A ground ball to second base could have ended the inning with a double play, but the play was botched, allowing a run to score. The following batter flew out to center field, giving Wayne Co. hope of exiting the inning with minimal damage done. Unfortunately, what followed was a throwing error by the pitcher, a catcher's interference and a walk, resulting in three runs scoring in the inning.

The lead grew to 5-0 in the fifth inning with a two out bases loaded walk. The walk would be Miller’s last batter of the game, as he exited after 4.2 innings pitched. The sixth inning was more of the same with Thomas Co. Central benefitting from a double, two walks and an error by the third baseman to extend the lead to 6-0. Wayne Co. was able to get one run back in the bottom of the sixth inning, but it would be of no use as Thomas Co Central and Delaney would finish the game off with a 6-1 victory.

Game two was almost an exact opposite replica of game one. In a must-win game, Wayne Co. started off on the right foot, scoring a run in the top of the first inning on a wild pitch off Thomas Co. Central Pace Mercer (ABAC recruit). Mercer settled in over the next two innings, sitting 83-86 with a tight slider that featured downard action at 76-78.

On the other side was RHP Jasper Stanfield. Stanfield worked through the first three innings of the game without allowing a run. The right-hander works with a shorter than normal arm action to a ¾ slot, sits on the back-side of a drop and drive delivery. With a fastball up to 84 mph and a slider to go-with, Stanfield kept Thomas Co. County off the board.

The fourth inning is when the game began to tilt towards Wayne Co. The inning started with back-to-back singles, scoring one run, followed by a hit batsman. Mercer got the following two batters to record infield pop outs and it looked like Thomas Co. Central was going to get away with allowing just one runs. That proved to be wrong as Mercer sent an errant throw down the right field line on a comebacker, both runners on base would come around to score to make it 4-0. That would signal the end of Mercer’s day.

Thomas Co. Central was able to finally get on the board in the fourth inning thanks to a misplayed ball by the center fielder, allowing two runs to score. Wayne Co. was able to get both of those runs back in a wild top half of the fifth that saw the Thomas Co. Central defense make three consecutive errors leading to two runs scoring.

Wayne Co. entered the bottom of the fifth inning leading 6-2. Thomas Co. Central was not going to go down without a fight. Back-to-back singles and a walk loaded the bases with no outs when Wayne Co. made the call to the bullpen. In came RHP Gant Starling, a Citadel recruit. To say that Starling’s appearance was nothing short of electric would be an understatement.  Running his fastball up to 91 mph, Starling attacked, the Thomas Co. Central lineup stood no chance. All three batters he faced in the inning went down swing at heat.

Starling once more took the mound in the sixth inning, but this time, instead of going after the order with his fastball, he took them on with an 11/5 curveball. The results were the exact same as the fifth. Starling struck out the side, all on his breaking ball. Sophomore Zach Thomas added a two-run home run in the seventh inning for good measure before Starling closed the game out, facing the minimum nine batters, striking out six.

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