COLUMBUS, Ga. - Maybe it was the mid-90-degree weather that brought up the image. When Brent Tucker tried to find a way to analyze his baseball team's GHSA Class AAA playoff series loss to Columbus, an Old West analogy came to mind.
"We had the rattlesnake down and let him go," Ringgold coach Tucker said after Thursday's 7-3 loss, which came less than 24 hours after the Tigers squandered an 8-3 lead in what would have been a series sweep of the defending state champions.
"We played good ball - we hit it good - but we just made some mistakes, and those are magnified at this kind of venue."
Most of the miscues came against 2010 title series nemesis Kyle Carter, the Columbus junior star who pitched and hit the Blue Devils past Ringgold last year. Carter was a combined 0-for-5 during Wednesday's split but hit three solo homers and earned the save Thursday by pitching the final 2 2/3 innings and allowing one run.
"We were stupid with Carter," Tucker said. "That's my fault. We couldn't get him in the right counts today to throw the right pitches and I wouldn't give in, and that was totally my fault. He did rise to the occasion and he's a great ballplayer."
The Tigers (24-4) weren't without chances. Down 2-0 in the fourth inning, Matthew Crownover hit a leadoff homer off Columbus starter J.T. Phillips, who was pitching with a sore back that kept him out of game two. Colton Cross then singled and reached third on consecutive wild pitches. Phillips, though, struck out the next two batters and ended the inning with a flyout.
Though Carter was lethal, it was the one inning in which he didn't contribute that hurt the most. A single, two walks and a wild pitch plated one run with one out in the fourth before Columbus pinch-hitter Pearce Ressmeyer singled in two runs to give Columbus (24-7) a 5-1 lead.
Ringgold had one more good opportunity, loading the bases with a run in and two out in the fifth, but Carter came on in relief to end the threat with a strikeout.
"We let them off the hook that second game, and it carried over to today," said senior shortstop Lance, echoing his coach's thoughts. "We never woke our bats up. We scattered our hits out, which is a credit to their pitching. We left too many runners on, and that's what's so frustrating. That's what really cost us today, not getting the big hit when we had to have it."
The Tigers return home to the reality of having to finish out the school year at Heritage. Tucker and the coaching staff have to start putting the program back together, starting with reworking the summer schedule.
"I've got a lot of work to do. We all do," Tucker said. "We won't just be sitting around, that's for sure. We've got to find somewhere to work out this summer and start to rebuild the program.
"I'll miss this group of seniors. This is my first graduating class at Ringgold - Colton, Zach, Caleb [Jones] and Barrett [Fontana]. Seeing those guys grow up and become the special players and people they've become, it's amazing. When people ask me about my best and worst season, it will be this one. It was my best season in a lot of ways but also my worst."