As Chestatee’s Phillip LeMay strode to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning with the score tied against West Hall on Wednesday, he only had one thought in mind: put the ball in play.
A simple but efficient plan, which LeMay executed to perfection for the War Eagles (9-5, 2-2 Region 7-4A).
With the game tied and the bases loaded, LeMay knocked a bouncing ground ball down the third-base line. The West Hall third baseman went to the ground to collect the ball, but as he reached for the base to attempt a force out, he lost hold of the ball, allowing the winning run to cross the plate in Chestatee’s 3-2 win.
“I just wanted to do something big for the team,” LeMay said. “I just knew I needed to put it in play somewhere and hit it to the right spot.”
It wasn’t the way LeMay or Chestatee coach Jon Brewer envisioned the game ending, but it’s a result neither is going to complain about.
“I don’t think I’ve been a part of an ending quite like that,” Brewer said. “A tough call for West Hall, but a win’s a win. We’ll take it, and we’re still in the playoff race.”
Former West Hall pitcher Benson Miller got the start for the War Eagles, but struggled in the opening inning, giving up two runs in 2/3 of an inning before being relieved by freshman Nolan Turner.
Turner pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings before giving way to Will Cantrell, who finished the game off by striking out five over the final two innings to set up Chestatee’s dramatic finish.
“For Nolan Turner — a freshman — to come in in a must win game and keep them at 0 for four innings is pretty good for us,” Brewer said. “And then, of course, Will Cantrell is our horse, hitting and on the mound. He was fantastic for us, and really closed the door, shut it down. That’s what he’s been doing all year, and really his whole career.”
After giving up two runs in the top of the first, the War Eagles bounced back quickly in the bottom of the inning. Lemay was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to cut the deficit to one, and then Clay Tyas drove in another with a grounder up the middle of the field.
The pitchers took over from there, as Turner and Cantrell for Chestatee and Nick Sturm and Braden Simms for West Hall kept the score knotted at 2-2 for nearly the entire remainder of the game.
“After we scored a couple runs, we really kind of picked it up,” Cantrell said. “We came out a little flat today, not how we wanted to start off. But we really picked it up around the fifth, sixth and seventh.”
Cantrell stranded a West Hall runner on third base in the sixth inning with a pair of strikeouts, and left runners at first and second in the seventh by striking out Simms to set up the game’s dramatic finish.
The win keeps the War Eagles just above .500 in region play, an important benchmark for a team that is fighting to get out of a competitive 7-4A region in which five of six teams still have winning records.
“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do in tough spots,” LeMay said. “Tonight, we didn’t play our best, but we played well enough when it mattered. That’s all it takes.”