After Walton dominated Friday’s opening game with a 10-3 victory, then took an early six-run lead in the nightcap, but the Raiders started having issues locating their pitches. They gave up eight walks and hit three batters after the second inning, allowing the Comets to come back and win 7-6 at Raider Mountain.
The decisive third game will be played today at 3 p.m. The winner will advance to host Norcross next week.
“This win is huge. If you don’t win, you go home,” South Gwinnett coach Steve Teschner said. “Unfortunately, they struggled with their command late, when we struggled with ours early.”
The first couple of innings of Game 2 couldn’t have gone any better for the Raiders (20-8).
They pounced on South Gwinnett ace Ryan Patterson in the first inning, scoring three runs on five hits. Walton also got to him in the third, with an additional three runs on four hits. Tyler Heinrichs capped the scoring in the third with a two-run single to give the Raiders their 6-0 lead.
Henrichs’ hit, however, was the last one Patterson would allow.
As Patterson settled down to take control of Walton’s bats, Walton starter Will White started getting erratic after cruising through the first two frames.
That’s when the Raiders’ pitching troubles began.
“We didn’t throw strikes,” Walton coach Shane Amos said. “We gave them too many freebies. We let them hang around, and we have to do a better job at that.”
White walked the first two batters and hit Mitchell Davis to load the bases with no outs. Chad Smith then followed with an RBI hit to put South Gwinnett (21-7) on the board, one of only two RBIs in the game by the Comets. White seemed to get back on track when he struck out Drew McCarthy for the first out, but he walked Montrell Marshall hit Patterson to force two runs in and cut Walton’s lead in half.
That’s when Caleb Bohan stepped in for White, and Bohan ended up being Walton’s sharpest pitcher of the second game. He gave up just one run on two hits, one a solo home run by Marshall in the fifth.
As South Gwinnett inched its way back into the game, Patterson was doing quick work against Walton. He faced the minimum in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings and completed the game for the Comets. He threw more than 100 pitches and had five strikeouts, with four coming in the sixth and seventh innings.
“(Patterson’s) a senior and has been our No. 1 all year,” Teschner said. “He only has one loss this year and was able to battle back after a couple of rough innings.”
After the Raiders got their first and only out in the bottom of the seventh inning, trying to preserve a two-run lead, their pitching really began to fall apart.
Reliever Daniel Parker hit Smith and went on to walk McCarthy and Marshall to load the bases. Then, Ben Milley took over when Marshall was at the plate with a 1-0 count, and he threw seven straight balls, ultimately allowing Smith to score.
After Harrison Veldsma replaced Milley, Walton’s only error of the doubleheader ended up being its undoing. Mason Hart grounded to Bradley Schwartz at third base, but the throw home was wide, allowing McCarthy to score the tying run and Marshall the winning run.
“We’ve got to have short memories and just shake it off,” Amos said. “It is what it is. The only thing we can do now is to do something about it (today).”
Walton jumped on South Gwinnett early in the first game as well, scoring four runs in the first inning and three more in the second. Aaron Rzucidlo was 2-for-3 with a double and three RBIs for Walton.
The Raiders also got hit five times by South Gwinnett pitches.
All of South Gwinnett’s runs in the first game came on solo home runs. Smith hit one in the third and Marshall and Hart hit back-to-back homers in the fourth.