Trailing 4-2, and down to their final at-bats in the top of the sixth due to the tournament’s 2-hour time limit on games, the Cougars pulled to within one when Sam Roberts’ fielder’s choice RBI plated Drew Davis. A two-out double-steal then knotted the game at 4-all before the Braves got out of the inning.
Cougars reliever Steven Barrance, who gave up one earned run on one hit over five innings to pick up the victory, then retired East Cobb in order in the bottom of the sixth to send the game into a seventh-inning tie-breaker.
In the tiebreaker, each team was given one out with the bases loaded using the final three batters of the previous inning.
The Cougars took advantage of the opportunity as Jonathan Pryor hit a one-out single through the left side to plate Will Small, and Holt Davis blasted a grand slam to score Roberts, Matthew Meeder and Pryor and give the Cougars a 9-4 advantage.
The Braves finally got out of the inning after a flyout and a groundout, but Barrance induced a force-out at home and groundout to second in the bottom half of the frame to seal the victory in a battle between Cobb County summer teams.
Davis, the Cougars’ clean-up hitter, had fouled off three straight pitches on a 2-2 count before sending the shot over the wall in left-center field.
“When I hit, I knew it was going out of here,” said Davis, a home-schooled player from Lawrenceville. “We had the lead, and when I came up to bat, I said a prayer as I stepped into the batter’s box. I’m a Christian and I believed the Lord really helped me out with that one. It was a great win.”
The Cougars took a 2-0 lead in the second behind an RBI double from Davis, who batted 3-for-4, and an RBI single from Nick Aiden.
The Braves answered in the bottom half of the inning as John Davis hit an RBI single and recent Marietta graduate Nick High picked up an RBI groundout.
The tie didn’t last long, however. Dylan Dore walked to lead off the third, and Barrance, who relieved Mount Paran Christian product Jordan VerSteeg, gave up a two-run home run to the first batter he faced — Blake Edwards — to put the Braves in front 4-2.
Braves starter Robert Harris, who allowed one unearned run on four hits and struck out seven, kept the Cougars at bay over his five innings before Cody Mazzatenta relieved him at the start of the sixth.
Davis and Aiden hit back-to-back one-out singles in the sixth, and pinch-hitter Nate Williams walked to load the bases for the Cougars.
Roberts’ fielder’s choice led to the second out, but it scored Davis and moved Aiden to third.
That’s when Cougars coach Danny Pralgo reached into his bag of tricks to force the tie. Roberts fell down attempting to steal second, and during the throw from catcher to first, Aiden stole home to knot the game at 4-all.
“We planned that play,” Pralgo said. “When we have two outs with runners on first and third, the dugout yells, ‘Get back! Get back!’ to give the catcher some-thing to think about.
“It’s a gamble, but we practice that play all of the time. The runner at first is supposed to fall down. It’s a reaction play that the catcher will go after the guy at first, giving the guy at third a chance to come home. It worked out for us (Wednesday).”
The tiebreaker rule also worked in the Cougars’ favor as they led off their half of the inning with their No. 3 hitter in the lineup.
“That worked out well for us going into the tie-break,” Pralgo said. “To have your No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters up in that situation with the bases loaded was a big deal.”
VerSteeg retired the side in the first but he lost command of the strike zone in the second inning, leading to the Braves’ two runs, and he allowed three earned runs on one hit through two innings. VerSteeg also walked three and hit two batters.
“Jordan has great movement on his pitches,” Pralgo said. “He just had too much movement and missed a little. We love him and still believe in him. He’s a great pitcher, but we decided to go with Barrance, and he came in and did a great job.”
The Cougars will continue the tournament’s playoff schedule with a second-round game today against the McDonough-based BigStix Gamers 17U team at the East Cobb Base-ball Complex.