COLUMBUS, Ga. - The bite of the Thomson High Bulldogs was good in Game 1 of the semifinals of the Georgia Class AAA state baseball playoffs, but their bite wasn't much in Game 2, as they were soundly defeated 21-7 by the Columbus last Monday night.
The Bulldogs didn't fair any better the following day, as they fell victim to the Blue Devils 8-4 in Game 3. The loss ended Thomson's season and bid to play for a state baseball title for only the second time in 42 years.
The Bulldogs finished with their best-ever season at 27-6.
With the series tied at 1-1 following Columbus' big win in Game 2, Thomson players and coaches still felt their chances were good at returning the next day to win Game 3. Unfortunately, it didn't work out as planned -- the Blue Devils making sure.
Thomson got off to a great start in Game 2, as they collected three runs on three hits in the bottom of the first inning. Columbus was held to just one run in the top half of that same inning.
The three hits for the Bulldogs came off the bats of Dontavis Brown, Nick Rau and Cody Ewest. Brown led off with a double to left field before he moved to third base on a sacrifice bunt by Andy Grimaud. Rau drove Brown home to tie the game at 1-1 with a RBI single to right field. Ewest then drilled a two-run homer over the left center field wall to give Thomson a 3-1 lead.
It was Ewest's 11th homer of the season.
Columbus, the visitors in Game 2 charged back with 10 runs on seven hits in the top of the third inning to take a 12-3 lead. The Blue Devils never had to look back.
The offensive surge by Columbus began against Thomson sophomore starting pitcher Andy Grimaud, who was replaced by senior relief pitcher Korey Austin, who got roughed up, too. Sophomore relief pitcher Josh Jones' services also were called upon. Neither of the Thomson pitchers was able to stop red-hot bats of the Blue Devils.
A grand slam by Columbus' Kyle Carter was the biggest spark during that rally.
Despite finding themselves down by nine runs, Thomson didn't play dead. Instead, they tallied two more runs in the bottom of the third to make it a 12-5 game.
Ewest drew a walk off Columbus starting pitcher Will Solomon, a junior, who came into the game with a 9-1 record. Ewest's walk followed Rau hitting into a double-play. Junior left fielder Will Tankersley, who had been a strikeout victim three times in the opening game of the series, came through a two-run homerun deep over the left field wall.
It was Tankersley's 12th homerun of the season.
Thomson managed to score two more runs before the game ended on the run-rule after five innings. Both of those runs came on homers by Rau -- his 13th of the season and Ewest -- his 12th of the season.
The Bulldogs returned for the rubber game of the series last Tuesday afternoon.
Emotions were high for both teams, as players, coaches and fans alike knew exactly what was on the line.
Going into the final game of the series, Thomson coach Jason Osborn told reporters he felt confident that his team could get the job done.
His star pitcher Abram Cartledge came to him earlier in the day indicating he could start Game 3 without even a day's rest. Cartledge, a 13-game winner this season, said his decision was about "team."
He called the team "family."
Coach Osborn decided to go with Cartledge.
"Columbus had better be ready for a fight, because that's what we're going to give them," coach Osborn said. "We can get this done."
Columbus coach Bobby Howard and his players had other ideas, though.
Despite a valiant effort on the part of the Thomson team, it was the Blue Devils who prevailed victorious and who got to play in the title series against Ringgold.
The Blue Devils tagged Cartledge for four runs on five hits during the three innings the southpaw pitched for the Bulldogs.
After three innings of play in Game 3, Columbus led Thomson 4-1.
Junior designated hitter Nic Wood, who led off the third with a walk off Columbus starting pitcher Charles Sheffield, eventually scored when Rau reached on a two-out fielder's choice.
Grimaud pitched the fourth inning and a little in the fifth before Columbus scored two more runs and he was relieved by Rau, who finished the game. Rau was rudely greeted by the first batter he faced, shortstop T.J. Phillips, who roped a two-run single into center field to give Columbus 6-1 lead.
In the top of the sixth, Thomson rallied for three more runs to cut Columbus' lead to 7-4.
Ewest led off the assault with a sharp single into right center field before scoring on Tankersley's homerun over the left field wall -- his 13th of the season and second one in as many games. Cartledge followed by drilling a solo-homer over the center field wall.