In their six years of existence as a baseball program, the Howard Huskies have been to post-season play six times, winning their region in their first two seasons with two seconds and a couple of third places. They've been to the Sweet 16 of the GHSA bracket only once, that coming in 2010.
Friday afternoon at the Husky Baseball Diamond on the Howard campus, the second-seeded Huskies from Region 2AAAA opened the 2014 GHSA Baseball Playoffs as they hosted Spalding from Region 4AAAA. For the winner, it would be a chance to advance to the next round, while the loser would see their season come to an end.
At the end of the day, it would be Howard coming out on top, taking two of three games Friday to move on to face Wayne County Wednesday in Jesup, winning game one 5-4 and taking the nightcap 10-4.
In the first game, it would be Howard getting out on top early, scoring three times in the first off starting pitcher Carson Grant, thanks to solo homers from Jabin Smith and Larsen Vaughn to lead 3-0. For Smith, it would be his first career homer in a Husky uniform. Will Brantley would drive in the third run of the frame when he singled to score Garrett King, who reached on an infield single and moved over to second on a walk by Tupach Brown.
Jake Taylor would make it 4-0 when he homered to the opposite field with two outs in the second and it would stay 4-0 through the top of the sixth when Spalding's Carson Grant led the inning off with a double off Howard's Chris Mallinson and scored on a one-out single by Evan Skipper. Spalding would then add three more in the top of the seventh when with one out, Tyler Garner, Koleman Evans and Alec Hayes all reached on singles. Grant then tied things up when he reached on a fielding error by Taylor, allowing all three runners to score. There was some confusion on the play, as Taylor thought he was interfered with and Howard head coach Danny Slaughter came out to argue the call, to no avail. After Louis Farlow grounded out to first, moving Grant over to third. Skipper would then be intentionally walked but Mallinson struck out Andy Hendrix to restore order.
With the contest now tied at 4 and in the balance, Howard's offense went back to work. After Brantley grounded out to short, Noah Hatcher reached on a single to left and avanced to second when Zane Gallaway reached on a fielding error by shortstop Drew Compton. Smith would then pop out to Grant. With two outs, Taylor came up to bat and redeemed himself of the error in the top of the inning, as he would single to left, scoring Hatcher with the winning run when Skipper dropped the throw. In the first game, the hitting star for Howard would be Taylor, who was 2 for 4 with a run score and two RBI. Spalding in the first game was led by Evans (3 for 4 with a run). Mallinson went the distance for Howard, striking out seven, while Grant went the distance for Spalding in the loss, giving up the five runs, while walking three.
After a 45-minute intermission for field mantainance, game two was underway and this time, it would be Howard as the designated visiting team in the second contest, even though they were playing on their home field. Howard would jump out of the gate in the top of the first early, sending 12 to the plate in the first, chasing starting pitcher Dustin Tardy off the mound. Tardy failed to retire a single batter in the start, giving up the six runs (five earned) and walked one. Spalding managed to score in their half of the first off Taylor when Farlow led the frame off, reaching on an infield single, moving over to second on a bunt by Evans and scoring with two outs on a single by Skipper. The Jaguars would pull a little closer in the second when Drew Compton doubled with two outs and scored on a Farlow single.
Things would stay at 6-2 before the Huskies scored twice in the sixth. After Smith led the inning off with a walk off reliever Jackson Mosley, he would score on a Taylor double to center. After Mallinson popped up to first, Vaughn drove his teammate home with a single to left for an 8-2 lead. If the Jaguars were going down, they were not going quietly into the night as they would score an unearned run in the sixth when Grant led the frame off, reaching on an error by shortstop Zane Gallaway and would score on a two-out single by Compton. Farlow would strike out looking to end the inning, sending the game to the top of the 7th.
For the Husky offense, their day was not done, as they would score twice in the seventh. After Hatcher grounded out to start the seventh, Gallaway would redeem himself for the miscue in the sixth, doubling to left center off Mosley. After Smith popped up to short, Taylor singled to right, scoring Gallaway. Taylor was then lifted for courtesy runner Bennett Smtih. Josh Raffield then pinch-hot for Mallinson, who doubled to left center, chasing Smith home with Howard's 10th run of the contest.
Spalding had one more hand to play in the bottom of the seventh and with their season on the line, Evans singled to left, chasing Taylor off the mound and sending in Will Brantley to the mound in relief. A wild pitch sent Evans to second and he would move to third on a ground out by pinch hitter Logan Pryor. After Grant flew out to right, Skipper doubled to left, scoring Evans. Howard would then restore order in the game when Tyler Tatum lined out to Brown at second, sealing the win for Howard and Spalding's fate.
Taylor led Howard with a 3 for 4 day (3 RBI), while Vaughn went 2 of 4 with a run scored and 2 RBI. Spalding, whose season ended at 14-12 (13-7 in Region 4AAAA), was paced by Farlow (2 for 4, run, RBI), Skipper (2 for 4, 2 RBI) and Compton (2 for 3, run, RBI). Howard improved to 18-10 and 11-3 in Region 2AAAA play.
AAAA First Round
Friday, May 2
Alexander vs. Cedartown
Game 1 - Cedartown 3, Alexander 2
Game 2 - Alexander 7, Cedartown 0
Game 3 - Alexander 3, Cedartown 1 (Alexander advances)
Carrolton vs. Cass
Game 1 - Carrolton 3, Cass 0
Game 2 - Carrolton 9, Cass 4 (Carrolton advances)
Columbia vs. Walnut Grove
Game 1 - Columbia 7, Walnut Grove 2
Game 2 - Walnut Grove 7, Columbia 4
Game 3 - Walnut Grove 6, Columbia 4 (Walnut Grove advances)
Columbus vs. River Ridge
Game 1 - Columbus 9, River Ridge 3
Game 2 - Columbus 10, River Ridge 0 (Columbus advances)
Crisp County vs. South Effingham
Game 1 - Crisp County 5, South Effingham 4
Game 2 - South Effingham 4, Crisp County 3
Game 3 - Crisp County 9, South Effingham 0 (Crisp County advances)
Cross Creek vs. Cairo
Game 1 - Cross Creek 10, Cairo 7
Game 2 - Cross Creek 9, Cairo 1 (Cross Creek advances)
Howard vs. Spalding
Game 1 - Howard 5, Spalding 4
Game 2 - Howard 10, Spalding 4 (Howard advances)
LaGrange vs. Northwest Whitfield
Game 1 - LaGrange 7, Northwest Whitfield 3
Game 2 - LaGrange 4, Northwest Whitfield 2 (LaGrange advances)
Locust Grove vs. Mary Persons
Game 1 - Locust Grove 14, Mary Persons 4
Game 2 - Locust Grove 6, Mary Persons 0 (Locust Grove advances)
Grady vs. Lanier
Game 1 - Lanier 4, Grady 1
Game 2 - Grady 3, Lanier 1
Game 3 - Lanier 6, Grady 2 (Lanier advances)
Marist vs. Stephens County
Game 1 - Marist 2, Stephens County 1
Game 2 - Marist 9, Stephens County 6 (Marist advances)
Redan vs. Lumpkin County
Game 1 - Redan 3, Lumpkin County 2
Game 2 - Redan 17, Lumpkin County 7 (Redan advances)
Veterans vs. Woodland-Henry
Game 1 - Veterans 14, Woodland Henry 7
Game 2 - Woodland-Henry 5, Veterans 4
Game 3 - Veterans 14, Woodland-Henry 3 (Veterans advances)
Wayne County vs. Westover
Game 1 - Wayne County 11, Westover 0
Game 2 - Wayne County 10, Westover 0 (Wayne County advances)
Griffin vs. West Laurens
Game 1 - Griffin 6, West Laurens 2
Game 2 - West Laurens 5, Griffin 4
Game 3 - West Laurens 7, Griffin 6 (West Laurens wins series)
Worth County vs. Statesboro
Game 1 - Statesboro 8, Worth County 1 (game played Saturday after Friday rainout)
Game 2 - Statesboro 9, Worth County 6 (Statesboro advances)
Second Round (Games start Wednesday with two games. If the teams split, the deciding game will be played Thursday)
Howard vs. Wayne County
Locust Grove vs. Statesboro
Carrolton vs. Redan
Veterans vs. Cross Creek
LaGrange vs. Lanier
Marist vs. Alexander
Crisp County vs. West Laurens
Walnut Grove vs. Columbus