In the second round of the state playoffs, the Thomson Bulldogs swept a scrappy Eastside team in a doubleheader played May 11 in Thomson.
The Eastside Eagles showed what got them to the playoffs by scoring three runs off a single and two homers in the top of the first inning against Thomson's stalwart starting pitcher Abe Cartledge. Cartledge struck out the other three batters he faced to retire the side and bring Thomson up to bat.
"This just means we've got to score to win," head coach Jason Osborn told his team before the bottom of the first. "We've got to turn it around, and turn it around right here."
"But we don't have to get it all back right away," added assistant coach Aaron Hall.
Get it all back right away is exactly what the Bulldogs did. With runners on first and second, Will Tankersley blasted a three-run homer over left field to tie the score. Nick Rau followed with a triple to right field, and was driven home by a sacrifice fly by Cartledge, also to right field, to give Thomson the lead. The Bulldogs never relinquished the lead.
Cartledge held the Eagles scoreless in the second, but Eastside pitching had no such luck against the bats of the Bulldogs. In an inning that included intentional walks, bases-on-balls, a bunt, a double, a steal of home by Tankersley, and a three-run home run by catcher Austin Cooper, the Dawgs racked up six more runs to put the score at 10-3.
The homer was Cooper's first of the season, and only his second in his career at Thomson, the first being a grand-slam last season against Grovetown. Cooper also had the first ground-rule double of his career, an additional double, and a single for the evening, as well as filling his usual position behind the plate in both games.
Eastside wasn't going home without a fight, however. After being down 10-3, the Eagles scrambled back with four runs in the third inning, another run in the fourth inning, and three additional runs in the fifth inning to bring the score to 12-11.
"My fast ball was good tonight," Abe Cartledge said after the game, "but my curve ball was hanging up there a bit, and that's what they were hitting. I'm going to work on my curve ball more before the next game."
Eleven runs turned out to be just one run shy of what Eastside needed, though, as Thomson held on to their lead into the sixth inning, when Rau came in to relieve Cartledge.
"My arm was a little sore tonight, but I just dug in and did what I had to do," Rau said after the game.
Sore arm or not, Rau put a stop to the Eastside scoring, striking out two batters and leaving three runners on base, and giving the Bulldogs a hard-fought 12-11 victory in the opening game of the double header.
After the first game, Thomson was expecting the second game to be just as tough.
"It's going to be a dogfight this second game," coach Osborn told his Bulldogs between games. "Let's go out there and fight. Swing the bat, but lay off the pitches over your head. I want to see lots of energy, and lots of hits. Let's get this done."
But whatever fight the Eagles still had in them evaporated in the face of Phillip Anderson's pitching. Anderson struck out eight batters in the second game and held the Eagles scoreless through six innings, when the game was called by the Mercy Rule with Thomson leading 11-0.
"When that first game was that close, I just knew I had to come out and focus, and do what I had to do to win the game," Anderson said after the game. "But the guys in the field really backed me up. I couldn't have done it without the help of my teammates."
Offensively, the Bulldogs picked up in the second game where they'd left off in the first. Dontavis "Juicy" Brown knocked two three-run homers out of the park, one in the third inning, and the other in the fifth inning.
Rau also had his second home run of the evening, slamming the ball over the left field fence for the final two runs of the game.
"I've never had two homers in one game before," Brown said after the game. "It feels good to do that."
When reminded that his bat accounted for six of the eleven runs scored in the game, Brown's response was typical of the soft-spoken center-fielder. "I didn't even realize that," he said.
In addressing his team after the games, Osborn was frank, but full of praise.
"We didn't start out today like we wanted to start out," he said.
"Those guys came out and scored early, and that might have made us a little nervous. But you guys hung tough and you bounced back and found a way to win. And that's what champions do, they find a way to win. I've said all along that it's just going to get tougher and tougher the further we go. But we found a way to win in the first game, and then you bounced back and played even better in the second. I've always told you guys I'm proud of you, and I'm even more proud of you tonight."
Hall also had praise for his team. "What I'm proud of tonight is that every time we came up to bat, and it's been this way every game this season, somebody different has stepped up to the plate and done something for the team. Tonight it was Cooper. Cooper had a career night tonight."
Austin Cooper was far more modest in his own assessment of his contribution to the wins.
"Whatever I did tonight, it was just part of the team effort," he said after the games.
"It was the team that won tonight, I was just able to help out a bit."