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DAWSONVILLE — East Hall was down to its final three outs. The Vikings’ grip on clinching their first playoff spot since 2003 was slipping.
Then senior Jack Hagwood used his bat and his hustle to jumpstart East Hall to a 7-6 eight-inning victory at Dawson County in Region 7-AAA action on Wednesday night, punching the Vikings’ ticket to the postseason.
Hagwood’s hit to shallow center field dropped in, and with no one covering second, he stretched it to a leadoff double as the Vikings (12-10, 10-5 region) faced a 5-4 deficit in the top of the seventh. When Jesse Cooper put a bunt down the third-base line and Tigers pitcher J.T. Eggert’s throw to third was wide, Hagwood came around to tie the game.
“We love the fight, man. We love the intensity of the game,” said Hagwood, whose team defeated West Hall 4-3 in eight innings Saturday. “When it gets close, we just love to come back.”
Dawson County’s Zack Buchan singled in the bottom of the seventh and reached second after a botched rundown, but he was stranded as the contest went to extra innings.
East Hall followed with a two-out surge in the top of the eighth, started by singles from Ronnie Peebles and Jeremy Walls. Hagwood stepped in and launched a two-run double to center field for a 7-5 Vikings lead.
“They’re a team. (This is) the first time we’ve had a lot of really good guys that are all in (for) the same goal,” East Hall coach Wesley Crow said. “And they get along together. They have fun together. They’re a fun team.”
Eggert reached on an error fielding his infield fly ball in the bottom of the eighth, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Dillon Heller’s two-out single back up the middle. But Eli Stuart induced a game-ending groundout to second base to preserve the pivotal region triumph for East Hall.
Eggert’s three-run homer over the scoreboard in left field in the bottom of the sixth gave Dawson County (7-14, 5-9) its first lead, 5-4.
“I like the way we’re competing,” said Dawson County coach Thad Burgess, whose team is battling with Fannin County and West Hall for the final Region 7-AAA playoff spot. “The last two weeks we’ve competed and we’ve been right there. East Hall has won a lot of these one-run games.”
Hagwood reached on an error and scored on a Hunter Strange single to give East Hall a 1-0 lead in the first. The Tigers tied it 1-1 in the second with singles from Luke Martin and Eggert and an RBI fielder’s choice by Logan Crumley.
The Vikings’ Levi Crocker and Cole Smith both singled in the fourth, with Levi Crocker scoring on a Walls single and Smith on an errant pickoff attempt for a 3-1 edge.
Jonah Crocker reached on an error, stole second and moved to third on a groundout before scoring on a Levi Crocker sacrifice fly for a 4-1 lead in the top of the fifth.
Stuart went the final two innings on the mound to pick up the win for East Hall, allowing an unearned run on two hits with one strikeout and no walks.
Jonah Crocker started and went six innings in a no-decision, surrendering five earned runs on seven hits with six strikeouts and a walk.
Reed McAllister took the loss after pitching the eighth for the Tigers.
Eggert pitched twice for a total of four innings with five strikeouts, one hit batsman and no walks while allowing one hit and being credited with an unearned run allowed. Heller allowed four runs (one earned) on four hits with one strikeout and no walks in three innings of relief for Dawson County.
Hagwood, Smith and Walls each totaled two hits for East Hall. Heller posted a game-high three hits for the Tigers, while Buchan and Eggert tallied two hits apiece for Dawson County.
Walls also kept anything that came near him at second base from making it to the outfield.
“He’s just little, steady Jeremy,” Crow said. “He’s a lot of fun to be around, kind of quiet kid and just does his business.”
Hagwood said he’s grateful to be a part of a group that keeps finding ways to win.
“This is about the best team I’ve ever been on right here,” Hagwood said. “I mean, we’ve got something going really good. It’s really special. I love my teammates.”
East Hall is schedule to host Lumpkin County at 5:55 p.m. Friday, while Dawson County will travel to Franklin County to face the Lions today.