HOUSTON – The Hilltoppers are on their way to becoming known as the “heart-attack kids,” going three games with Amory to advance in playoffs and splitting games with Lewisburg to force another third game showdown.
“These kids are trying to make me get out of coaching or have a heart attack or something,” joked Coach Scott Gann. “But it’s all worth it.”
The Hilltoppers played their first game of quarterfinals on the road at Lewisburg and saw their 3-1 lead in the second disappear in a late-game rally by the Patriots. The Toppers fell 7-6 in the bottom of the seventh and headed to home to host the Patriots Saturday.
On the home field, the Hilltoppers took a quick 2-0 lead in the first set up by a single by Peyton Callahan and a walk by Reid Carter. Kody Kimbrough’s ground out moved the runners to second and third and Austin Burdine’s single past shortstop scored them both.
The Patriots rallied in the top of the fifth as Rudy Martin sailed a three RBI homer over the right field fence and the Olive Branch boys took a 3-2 lead.
The Hilltoppers defense and offense came together like hand-in-glove in the bottom of the seventh as pitcher Kyle Wilson fielded a bunt and threw out Mason Givens on second and Quon Brand prevented a run by hitting Kody Kimbrough from third to home. Blake Johns snagged the final Lewisburg out in left field and put the Toppers at the plate.
Senior Sharone Wright reached on a walk and a pass ball allowed him second. He stole to third on Denver McQuary’s at-bat and McQuary singled to send him home and tie the game, 3-3. Callahan’s single advanced McQuary to third. With two outs and bases loaded, Burdine again came through with the clutch hit, scoring McQuary for the 4-3 win.
Gann said the fight his team shows is nothing new, it’s been going on all season.
“They could have easily folded a while ago, but they didn’t,” Gann said. “This is a team that was one game away from not making the playoffs. Mentally and physically, these kids have overcome all of the adversity thrown their way.”
The Topper headed back to Lewisburg Monday for Game Three and fell behind 0-5 after four innings, but mounted a rally at the top of the fifth t cut the lead to 2-5 and added two more in the top of the sixth to advance to 4-8 but that was as close as they would come. After battling through their entire season and into playoffs, the Toppers closed their season with a 1-2 series loss in Olive Branch.
“It was a great season,” Gann said. “That come-back magic just ran out, but it was a blast while it lasted.”
Gann credited his more seasoned players with paving the way into playoffs.
“Those six seniors taught the younger guys how to win, battle and just show up to wrk every day,” Gann said. “I’m really proud of that goup of 19 young men. I feel like I’m a better person because of them.”
He also thanked the Hilltopper fans for their support of the team through the regular season and especially into postseason play.
“I have to say thanks to all those fans,” Gann said. “What a great crowd we’ve had this postseason. That’s why I love this place. Topper pride!”