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Cougars take walk-off win over Tiftarea Panthers

CORDELE— On Friday night, the Crisp County High School baseball team matched up with a strong Tiftarea Academy squad (11-4 overall record) for the second time this season.

The Tiftarea Panthers had previously taken the first matchup between the two by a 6-0 score line on their home field back in early March, but the Cougars took a walk-off win by a score of 2-1 in Friday’s game in Cordele to earn a 1-1 season split with TA.

The contest was a well-matched pitchers’ duel over the course of the entire game, as Crisp County starting pitcher Connor Richmond and TA’s Ben Matt held the opposing batting lineups mostly in check.

Each team came up with a chance to get on the scoreboard during the first inning, but the two pitchers were able to get out of the early potential scoring situations.

In the top of the first, Tiftarea got two hits and a walk to load up the bases with one out, but Richmond got the fifth TA batter of the frame to line out to short for an inning ending double play. Shortstop Cole Lancaster caught the line drive and subsequently got the ball to Noah Walters at second base to get the Cougars out of the jam.

In the bottom half of the first frame, Crisp got a one-out single from Jackson Napier, followed by a walk from Bailey Barfield, but the Panthers kept the Cougars scoreless in the inning by getting the second out on the base paths, then the third on a strikeout.

After a scoreless second frame, each team put one run on the board in the third inning.

Tiftarea had two runners on base with no outs after picking up a walk and single to start the top half of the third. The Cougars got a force out at third base, followed by a pop out on the infield over the course of the next two at-bats, but TA’s Nate Fortson came up with an RBI single to center field shortly after for a 1-0 Panther lead entering the bottom half of the third.

Crisp went on to tie the score up at 1-1 in the bottom of the third. Toby Stripling drew a one-out walk and Napier came up with his second hit of the game in the next at-bat to give CCHS two runners on base. After a wild pitch moved both runners up into scoring position, Barfield picked up an RBI on a groundout to second that allowed Stripling to score. The Panthers subsequently got the final out of the frame on a pop-up to strand Napier at third base.

Over the course of the next several innings, the two starting pitchers continued their strong efforts, as they limited the run-scoring opportunities.

TA’s best scoring chance over that stretch came during the top of the fourth inning when the Panthers loaded up the bases with two outs using a hit by pitch and two walks. Richmond ultimately got Crisp out of the situation without giving up a run by hauling in a comebacker to the mound and throwing to first for the third out of the frame.

The Cougars came up with a chance to take a lead in the fifth inning after Stripling drew a one-out walk and then stole second base during the next at-bat, but consecutive fly outs to left kept the potential go-ahead run stranded in scoring position.

From there, the game remained tied at 1-1 up until the Cougars pushed the winning run across in the bottom of the seventh for the walk-off victory.

CCHS designated hitter Tanner Massey led off the bottom half of the seventh frame with a single to left. The Panthers subsequently picked up the first out of the inning in the next at bat by way of a strikeout, but Crisp’s Greer Hawkins followed up with a single to give the Cougars two runners on base with just one out.

Crisp next loaded up the bases when Stripling came up with a walk after fighting through a 10-pitch at-bat against TA relief pitcher Brandon Prudhomme.

With the bases loaded and just one out, Napier came up to bat and put the ball in play toward third base, which resulted in an infield hit that sent Cougar pinch-runner Ethan Pollock to home plate for the game-winning run to end the game.

Richmond picked up the win on the mound for the Cougars after pitching all seven innings and allowing just the one Tiftarea run on four hits and four walks, while striking out five batters.

Napier finished the game with three hits and the game-winning RBI to lead the Cougar batting order.

Other key offensive contributors for Crisp were: Stripling- three walks and one run scored; Barfield- one walk and one RBI; Richmond, Walters and Hawkins- one hit apiece; Massey- one hit and one walk.

Matt pitched five innings for the Panthers and allowed one Cougar run on four hits and four walks with seven strikeouts, while Fortson and Colby Grant led the TA batting order with two hits apiece in the contest.

The walk-off win over Tiftarea put Crisp County’s overall record at 10-12 on the season.

The Cougars have six games remaining on the regular season schedule, and all are region contests.

Crisp will begin a three-game series against Cook County tomorrow afternoon in Adel starting at 5:30 p.m. Crisp and Cook are then scheduled to play a double-header in Cordele on Friday starting at 4:30.

Following the series with Cook, the Cougars will close out regular season play with a series against Monroe High, beginning with a game in Albany on Tuesday, April 16, and ending with a two-game set in Cordele on Friday the 19th.