Small ball for Houston County leads to first-round success
Cam Jones had little margin for error in the sixth inning of Houston County’s GHSA Class 6A baseball playoff opener Friday against Heritage-Conyers.
With the Bears trailing by a run, Jones faced a 2-2 count with the bases loaded and two down. One more swing and a miss would have been costly.
Jones fouled off eight straight pitches, prolonging his at-bat against Heritage starter Griffin Holcombe. Jones then took on a low pitch to fill the count, and his patience was paid off with a walk that scored the tying run.
Holcombe walked the next batter, Austin Hittinger, giving Houston County a 4-3 lead that the Bears carried to victory in Game 1 of their best-of-three series.
Houston County (15-14) finished off the first-round sweep with another 4-3 victory, scoring three runs in the fourth inning on a passed ball, sacrifice fly, sacrifice bunt and base hit.
Four who mattered
Jones: In addition to the RBI walk, the sophomore went 2-for-3 with a run scored in Game 1 and 2-for-4 in Game 2.
Hittinger: His walk produced Game 1’s game-winning RBI in the bottom of the sixth, and he came on in relief of starter Chandler Ring in the seventh and picked up the save in a 21-pitch inning.
Ring and Chandler Dawson: Both of Houston County’s starting pitchers were effective. Ring struck out five and walked three while scattering four hits on 77 pitches in six innings of work in Game 1, while Dawson went the distance in Game 2, striking out seven and walking one on a seven-hit evening.
Jones, a sophomore, just about wore out the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” during his sixth-inning at-bat, with the PA announcer playing clips after each two-strike foul-off. But all of that patience, backed with some chatter from the Houston County dugout, ultimately led to two decisive runs and set the tone for the entire night.
A-B-C equals W-I-N: Small ball essentially carried the doubleheader for Houston County. The Bears trailed Heritage 3-1 entering the bottom of the sixth in Game 1, and they used two base hits and an error to load the bases. A strikeout put Houston County in a two-out situation, but Jacob Profit’s base hit put a run on the board and set up Jones’ long at-bat. The fourth inning of Game 2 was another manufactured run situation, a situation that played out well for the Bears.
Arms up to the task: Undeterred by a sub-.500 regular season, Houston County’s pitchers kept the Bears in things against a Heritage staff that was almost as effective. Holcombe went the distance in the opener, striking out eight while walking three, while Game 2 starter Nolan Woodward also went the distance, striking out three and walking one.
Big off the bench: R.J. Preston had the night’s biggest hit in terms of bases, a shot to deep center that got past the center fielder for an RBI triple in the sixth inning of Game 2. Preston was batting in the No. 9 spot in a pinch-hitting role.
Hard into the wall: Profit left Friday’s doubleheader early in Game 2 after sliding for a foul ball in foul territory on the first-base side. He slid arms-first into an unpadded portion at the base of a concrete brick wall. He was able to get up under his own power after getting some medical attention, but he had to leave the game.
They said it
Jones on defending the plate: “I was just trying to keep fighting it off, sooner or later find a good pitch. I got the best of him, but (Holcombe) is a heck of a pitcher. Props off to him.”
Hittinger on the sixth-inning rally in Game 1: “(Jones) had a good AB. Coach always says to come in the game prepared, ready to play the game. Cam just came in there being a bulldog, and he got the job done and started a little rally for us.”
Houston County head coach Jason Brett on how the Bears won: “I looked up at one point (in the first game) and we had 10 hits and one run. You get a little frustrated with that. But our kids competed. That’s all I’ve asked them to do all year. We set up our schedule so that it was tough, to simulate some big games early and put them in some spots. … I’m proud of the kids for how they fought and how they competed (Friday).”
Houston County heads to Marietta for the second round as the Bears will take on Pope in a best-of-three series scheduled to begin Thursday. Pope, the Region 7-6A champion, beat Creekside 6-2 and 14-0.