RINGGOLD, Ga. -- As his teammates celebrated and chased their coach with a water bucket, Corey Kafka allowed himself a small celebration Wednesday at Bill Womack Field.
Kafka's Ringgold Tigers had just advanced to the GHSA Class AAA semifinals with a closer-than-it-should-have-been 9-8 win over LaGrange, and though the senior was as happy as his teammates to stay alive, he won't allow himself to rest until the job is done. It was that attitude, coach Brent Tucker would later say, which helped save the 27-5 Tigers, who will play at undefeated Gainesville in a best-of-three series beginning Monday.
Kafka, who was the winning pitcher in a complete-game effort in Tuesday's best-of-three series opener, put out a fire in the seventh inning Wednesday to cut the Grangers' rally one run short, working around an error to strike out the side.
"Leaving here last night I didn't expect Corey to even be available," Tucker said, "But he came in this morning and didn't say good morning or hey, coach or that he was tired. All he said was, 'I've got an inning.' You've got to trust these guys. He came in throwing the ball good and, well, it looked to me like he had more than an inning."
LaGrange (23-11) had finally gotten to Ringgold starter Austin Parrish, who had battled through several tough innings to get to the seventh. A single, an error and a hit batter loaded the bases, ending Parrish's afternoon. Kafka struck out Jake Norton on a 3-2 fastball, but an infield error on what could have been a game-ending double play, scored two runs and a Kafka wild pitch made it a one-run game.
The right-hander, though, struck out Drew Murphy on a 2-2 breaking pitch, then worked the count against Jack Bradford before freezing him on a strong fastball to end the game.
"The pressure was on, and I needed a ground ball or strikeout," said Kafka, allowing himself a smile. "I knew I just needed to do my job. Staying composed and throwing the ball where I had to put it was crucial."
The Tigers nearly applied the knockout punch on several occasions, scoring three times in the first, second and fifth innings. Twins Andy and Allan Mochabee drove in two runs each over the first two innings, Allan's on a two-run homer to left, but the Grangers scored three of their own in the second. The Tigers, though, got a two-run single by Reed Walden in the fifth and Allan Mochabee's sacrifice fly to add insurance they would later need.
Tucker praised the work of starter Parrish, who, despite a lengthy layoff from the mound, got his team in position to win.
"I thought Austin did a great job," he said. "He hadn't pitched in four weeks, and in the sixth inning he really hit the wall. He's just a battler and competitor, and he kept us ahead all day long. We battled through a tough spot in the seventh, but we made it.
"Hey, we're in the semifinals and it feels great."