CALHOUN, Ga. - Say this for Lance Oubs: He sure knows how to squeeze the drama out of a do-or-die baseball game.
His Lovett School team, less than 24 hours after a heartbreaking nine-inning loss, used strong pitching and a ton of small ball to defeat Calhoun 9-2 on Thursday in the deciding game of the teams' Georgia Class AA second-round playoff series. After watching his team leave the bases loaded three times in Wednesday's 6-4 game-two loss, Oubs successfully called three squeeze bunts Thursday in subduing the Yellow Jackets.
"We kind of went back to what we do tonight," the veteran coach said. "We left too many men on base last night, so we wanted to get back to basics. This win, after the way we lost last night, says so much about the grit and leadership of this team."
The death-by-a-thousand-cuts for the Yellow Jackets began right off the bat with a hit batter, a walk and Nick Cancelliare's RBI single. Drew Williams followed with the first of the squeeze bunts, and the Lions took the starch out of a jazzed-up Calhoun crowd with two quick runs.
"We know what they like to do and they did it well," Calhoun coach Chip Henderson said. "Those early runs seemed to make them comfortable, and for us, offensively we just didn't make enough happen."
Lovett starting pitcher Willie Candler took care of that. A reliever all season, Candler retired the first nine Calhoun batters, pleasantly surprising his coach.
"I can't say enough about Willie's effort," Oubs said. "I had thought if we could get three good innings out of him that we could piece the rest of the game together. He did much better than that."
Candler went 5 2/3 innings before tiring, but by then he had been staked to a 5-0 lead thanks to three runs in the top half of the inning. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases, and after a short flyout, Alex Sayles squeezed home a run, with another scoring on a Calhoun throwing error. Wells Williams followed with a sacrifice fly.
Calhoun scraped across single runs in the fifth and sixth innings on singles from John Allen Kendrick and Spencer Cross, but the Jackets left four runners in scoring position. Lovett put the game away with a run in the sixth (on a squeeze) and three in the seventh, including Grant Haley's solo homer, the only home run in the three games.
"The guys got a good taste of the second round of the playoffs, but we've got to get back to work," Henderson said of his 24-6 team. "Lovett is a great program, but we are, too, and we want to get back to winning these types of series."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.