Holly Springs had their backs against the wall in every way imaginable.
The Golden Hawks entered Thursday nights contest with Corinth Holders down 1-0 in the three-game series, facing elimination. Holly Springs then started the game down 3-1 after the first inning, in serious danger of a two-game sweep to the Pirates.
With a trip to the state title game, more importantly their season, on the line, the Golden Hawks responded in the only way they knew how. They came out swinging, literally and figuratively, and extend their season for at least one more game, defeating Corinth Holders, 5-3.
The win by Holly Springs sets up Game 3 on Saturday, with a trip to the 4A title game on the line. After falling to the Pirates 2-0 on Tuesday night in Wendell, Golden Hawks’ skipper Rod Whitesell didn’t sugarcoat what was at stake.
“Before the game we laid it out to them: you lose and your season is over,” Whitesell said. “They knew what was at stake and they handled it.”
Starting pitcher Matt Willadsen recovered from a shaky start, but was solid as a rock after the first inning, when the Golden Hawks surrendered three runs right away to the Pirates. A couple of tough bounces and a balk by Willadsen got Corinth Holders (22-7) on the board right away, but the senior wasn’t rattled at all, going on to strike out six batters the rest of the way. Willadsen gave up three hits in the first inning alone, but only surrendered four more the rest of the game.
“They punched us in the mouth, but we came back and got it done,” Willadsen said. “It was sort of a wake up call.”
Holly Springs (22-6) proved to be wide awake in the bottom of the fourth when they tied the game at three after a two-run double from Jayson Avendt and took the lead for good on an RBI from Alex Macom. Avendt would drive in another run in the bottom of the sixth, giving the home team some breathing room heading into the top of the seventh.
“Huge, huge at bats by Jayson,” Willadsen said. “But you have to Michael (Groves) some credit.”
Groves laid down a bunt to move runners in the fourth and again in the sixth, something Whitesell admitted he hadn’t asked Groves to do all year. But it was the kind of team effort, little by little chipping away, that led to the comeback win.
Now the two teams will return to Wendell with the winner advancing to the 4A title game. Since the game on Tuesday, Whitesell was proud of the way his team approached practice in the following days. It’s not like they were given much of an option; it was either play well or start their off season early.
With six seniors on the roster and plenty of juniors with big game experience, the team was loose at practice. Besides, a team that’s won 20 games won’t rattle that easy.
“Our mindset was we had to win two games,” Whitesell said. “I don’t think they were uptight.”
The Golden Hawks will have to keep that same approach when they take the trip to Corinth Holders, where the Pirates were 12-4 this season.
“It’s going to be tough,” Whitesell said. “I know they have their ace (pitcher) in the hole. We’re going to see a good pitcher and we’re going to have to fight and not give in. It’s going to be a battle on Saturday, I look forward to it.”