Twice, Southeast Whitfield High School’s baseball team had opportunities to dent or erase a two-run deficit.
Twice, Christian Heritage and pitcher Michael McKinney escaped unharmed.
For the second time in their first Georgia High School Association season — and the second time this week, for that matter — Christian Heritage beat a Whitfield County public school from a larger classification. The Lions topped the host Raiders 5-3 on Thursday thanks to their own four-run second inning and Southeast stranding runners in the fifth and seventh.
Ahead by the final margin in the bottom of the seventh, McKinney balked to put Southeast (0-3) runners at second and third with just one out. He struck out Devin Gentry for the second out, and Blake Foster’s first-pitch line drive went right to center fielder Jake Stokes to end the threat and the game.
“We didn’t play our best behind him tonight,” said coach Noah Stokes, whose Lions improved to 2-1, “but with them threatening in the seventh, we did a great job.”
McKinney believes his fifth-inning escape was just as important.
With the score already 5-3, Abram Stanley’s double to deep left field started the inning for the Raiders. But Gentry struck out, Foster popped up to shortstop and Jose Vargas grounded to second.
“That one I felt like was more of a gut check because there weren’t any outs,” McKinney said. “That one felt more like a pressure situation.”
Southeast coach Brad Lofton wasn’t happy with his team’s missed opportunity in the fifth.
“(When) we get an inning with a leadoff double, then we have to get him over and get him in,” Lofton said. “It’s early still. We’re going to get better as the season goes on.”
Christian Heritage beat North-west Whitfield 6-3 Monday.
Both the Raiders and Bruins are Class 4A schools, while the Lions are in Class A. They have enjoyed postseason success in recent seasons, but that was in the smaller Georgia Independent School Association.
Stokes is just happy to be playing area teams after previously competing in a region that stretched south of Atlanta.
“It’s important for us to play locally,” Stokes said. “It wouldn’t matter if they were Class A. We still want to play in our community.”
McKinney pitched a complete game, allowing two earned runs off six hits. He struck out six and was matched by Raiders starting pitcher Tyler Hale’s complete-game effort.
Hale allowed one earned run on five hits, but just one came after the second inning. Southeast committed three errors, two of them in the second inning.
“There were some defensive miscues,” Lofton said. “We made a couple errors. They made a couple errors. It was just a classic high school baseball game.”
In the second inning, after Christian Heritage’s Chase Tidwell reached on a throwing error, Jake Stokes had a two-out, bases-loaded grounder to third that couldn’t be handled. McKinney’s RBI single then preceded Nich Bartley’s two-run single to give the Lions a 5-2 lead.
“Good, timely hits,” Stokes said. “(Bartley’s hit) was the difference in the game. He’s been swinging well.”
In the first inning, Mckinney’s RBI double scored Ian Robbins, but Southeast responded when Gentry scored on a fielder’s choice and Austin Pratt’s infield single scored Vargas. The Raiders’ other run came in the fourth when Vargas’ RBI single scored Pratt.
Stanley and McKinney each went 2-for-4 with a double.