Panthers head coach Jay Matthews went with his instincts Thursday night, and it paid off in a big way.
Behind the pitching of Cole Pittman, who threw a complete-game three-hitter, and the hitting of center fielder Tanner Brassell, Lakeside High School’s baseball team scratched out single runs in the sixth and seventh innings and defeated Evans 2-0 to win the Region 2-AAAAA championship.
Matthews thought about pulling Pittman from the fifth inning and considered not even playing Brassell, who accounted for two of the Panthers’ four hits.
“Toward the end of the game I’m thinking maybe I should’ve made a pitching change,” said Matthews. “Typically Tanner Brassell struggles with left-handers, being a left-handed hitter. I came close to not hitting him in the 2-spot because it was going to be a lefty. It’s a game of second-guessing and it’s one of those instances where I’m glad I went with my gut.”
Brassell struggled through a severe hitting slump during the season, but broke out with a double in the Panthers’ semifinal win at Greenbrier Tuesday night. He scored the winning run in the sixth inning after crushing a one-out double, advancing to third on a groundout and scoring on a throwing error.
“The biggest thing is staying confident, knowing you can get a hit,” Brassell said. “It’s a big, big, big week. No one saw us in this position. It’s the biggest thing. You’ve got to believe.”
The Panthers (17-7, 7-6 Region 2-AAAAA) started the region tournament as a No. 3 seed and won games on the road at Northside and Greenbrier before heading to Evans Thursday.
They will now enter the 2012-2013 GHSA Class AAAAA State Baseball Tournament as a No. 1 seed, playing host to Glynn Academy, and will remain at home as long as they continue to win.
The Knights (17-5, 9-4) will get a home game as a No. 2 seed facing Ware County with both teams playing Friday, May 3.
The Panthers got an important insurance run in the top of the seventh. Joseph Kortick doubled with one out and attempted to get to third on a pitch in the dirt. The catcher’s throw was in time but went off the third baseman’s glove, allowing him to score.
It was also about a game of inches. Brice Harrison reached on an error to start the Knights’ seventh inning, and Matt Anderson doubled him to third two outs later on a ball that just ticked off the glove of a sprinting Brassell.
Tanner Durand then stretched to snare a liner from Spencer Murray.
“A couple of inches it’s tied, you’re still going and you never know.” said Knights head coach Ricky Beale. “Durand made a good play on it.”
Beale was also impressed with the way Evans starter Garrett Wilkinson performed. The lefty pitched a complete-game four hitter while allowing two unearned runs and striking out four.
“He threw well and you can’t ask for anything else out of a starter,” Beale said.
Pittman (6-1) battled the whole game, walking six but striking out three and worked his way out of jams, including a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the third.
The region championship was the first for Matthews, who started coaching in 2005. He said it was more about his players.
“I told them 20 years from now when they walk into the school that region trophy is going to be there, and it’s a great memory,” Matthews said.