DALTON, Ga. - It was a gutsy move at the start of a three-game series but one Todd Middleton felt was necessary. Of course, when Plan B involves Seth Pierce maybe it's not much of a gamble.
Middleton, the Northwest Whitfield High School baseball coach, pulled starting pitcher Logan Hilton one out into the bottom of the first inning of Wednesday's Region 7B-AAAA first-place showdown with rival Dalton, trailing 3-2. Pierce, the junior lefty who has been the team's ace for most of his three seasons, kept the Bruins in a game they eventually won in nine innings, 8-7.
"I saw that Logan just didn't seem to have it and Seth was ready," Middleton said. "We've had Seth ready in every game in relief in hopes of using him as a closer, but we've usually been able to get deeper into games. Call him closer, stopper or whatever you want, but I wanted him in there at that point because I felt like we needed to make a stop right there."
Pierce gave up an RBI single to Jake Roberts on his second pitch as the fired-up Catamounts took a 4-2 lead. Pierce, though, retired the next 13 batters and the Bruins (13-4, 9-1) rewarded him with three runs in the fourth, taking the lead on Walker Maret's two-run single. They added a single run in the fifth on Caleb Shiflett's sacrifice fly, but Dalton (13-5, 8-2) tied the game in the sixth on back-to-back solo homers from Brock Nelson and Roberts.
Northwest took a 7-6 lead in the seventh as Edwin Hernandez answered back with a solo shot of his own, but the Cats again responded in the bottom half when cleanup hitter Grant Sane, held in check to that point, singled in Maddox Houghton with two outs. The score was still tied in the ninth when Andy Whisenant led off with a walk against Dalton reliever Cole Shelton, moved to second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on Diego Peralta's groundout and scored on another wild pitch.
After allowing a leadoff single to Houghton in the bottom half, Pierce ended the thriller by getting Jase Chastain to ground out, stranding Houghton at second.
"It was just an up-and-down game all night," said Pierce, letting out a big breath of relief. "I left some pitches up with those two home runs, but Dalton's a good-hitting team. We played our hearts out and kept battling until the last pitch. Especially to win here, where their crowd is always into it, is big for us."
Dalton, which got five strong innings of relief from Shelton, will travel to Northwest for game two today, with the third game back at Dalton on Friday.
"I'm proud of my guys; we grew up today," Dalton coach Shane Ramsey said. "I like the fact we fought and gave ourselves a chance to win. All you want is a chance to win two out of the three games, and today we did and I really like our chances in the next two."
Hernandez led Northwest's 10-hit attack with three hits and scored three times, with Pierce, Maret, Whisenant and Omar Hernandez adding two hits each. Roberts and Houghton had three hits each for Dalton, with Brock Nelson adding two and three RBIs.
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