POWDER SPRINGS -- Ethan Wright’s 11th-inning RBI single was the difference Thursday as Hillgrove advanced to the Class AAAAAAA quarterfinals state with a 4-3 win over Woodstock.
With no outs and a runner on second in the top of the inning, Wright showed bunt. As Woodstock's corner infielders charged toward the plate, Wright pulled back and slapped the ball through the gap in the middle to score Jack Gilsenan.
The series victory sent Hillgrove (28-8) through to the next round to host Mill Creek.
“We just found a way,” Hillgrove coach David Richardson said. “They crashed hard on the bunt coverage, and Ethan did exactly what he’s supposed to. He did a fantastic job. Jack did a great job with the double to get us in that position. They showed a lot of resilience and guts, and I’m proud of them.”
After surrendering the lead, Woodstock (23-12) made one final push in the bottom half of the 11th inning.
The Wolverines’ first two batters were retired. The next three walked to load the bases and put the winning run in scoring position, but Brennan Richardson coaxed a ground ball to second base to end the game.
“We fought, just like we have all season,” Woodstock coach Jeff Brown said. “It was one of those games where it’s a shame someone had to lose. They got the big hit in the big moment. That was the difference. If we can get that ball through the infield, I think we’re on the other side of it. That’s just the way baseball is sometimes.”
Both teams struggled on the mound at times during the first two games of the series, but both got much better performances Thursday.
For Hillgrove, Mason Curtis got the start and allowed just two earned runs in 3 1/3 innings before Fred Wilson came in to get the win after throwing 103 pitches in 7 1/3 innings.
Woodstock got 5 1/3 innings from starter Cason Rich and 5 2/3 innings from Brennan Milone, flipping the script on Wednesday’s doubleheader that produced 17 pitching changes.
“I can’t say enough about our pitchers,” David Richardson said. “I thought Fred showed a lot of guts. We never asked him to throw that many pitches, but he knew we needed it, and he did the job for us.”
The tight extra innings on the heels of back-and-forth play in regulation.
Hillgrove got on the board first with Reid Johnson's RBI single in the second inning. Colby Cox tied the game in the bottom half of the inning with his own RBI single before Carter Maczko put Woodstock ahead 2-1 with an RBI in the third.
Zach Stewart tied the game for Hillgrove in the fourth. Woodstock’s David Smigelski doubled home a run in the fifth, and Stewart drove in another run in the sixth to force extra innings.
“We have a lot of seniors on this team,” Richardson said. “It’s a special group. We’ve done a lot, but haven’t had a lot of playoff success. It just says a lot about these guys to stick with it, keep grinding and get themselves in this position.”