East Hall’s first baseball playoff appearance since 2003 started with four runs and five hits in the first three innings.
It ended with Jackson County junior left-hander Coleman Barbee tossing a two-hit shutout to close out a first-round Class AAA sweep for the Panthers on Friday night at East Hall Park.
Jackson County battled back from a three-run deficit to win the opener 7-5 before cruising to an 8-0 victory in the nightcap.
Sophomore Chris Griggs went the distance on the mound for the Panthers in the first game. Griggs and Barbee combined to limit the Vikings to four hits and three runs over the final 11 innings of the series.
Jackson County totaled 23 hits on the night, including 12 in the opener, and took advantage of six East Hall errors — three in each game.
The Panthers (17-11) take on the Jackson-Jenkins winner in the second round, which starts Wednesday. Those teams split their games Friday and play a decisive Game 3 today.
East Hall finished the season 14-13.
“Like I told our kids, it’s a special year,” East Hall coach Wesley Crow said. “We had a lot of fun. We got to host here. Nothing we did today took away from what we were (able) to accomplish this year, which was a really good year for East Hall baseball.”
Crow said the future should be bright for his group, which featured four seniors.
“We’re going to bring almost everybody back. Two-thirds of our pitching staff is back,” Crow said. “I think we’ve got a chance to be even better depending on how some things work out.”
GAME 2: JACKSON COUNTY 8, EAST HALL 0: Barbee tallied 13 strikeouts compared with three walks and a hit batsman in a complete-game effort.
“When he’s zoned in and he’s throwing strikes, he’s near unhittable,” Jackson County coach Tommy Fountain said.
Following Jack Hagwood’s leadoff single in the top of the first and Ronnie Peebles’ single in the second, Barbee allowed three base runners and no hits the rest of the way. No East Hall runner reached third base.
“We knew that we had to come into this game throwing a lot of strikes,” Barbee said.
Joel Ellis had three hits, including a double, an RBI and a run scored for the Panthers in the nightcap. Chris Griggs (two RBIs, two runs), Ty Smith (two RBIs, double), Colby Cole (RBI, two runs) and Chandler Saine (two runs) added two hits apiece.
Jonah Crocker allowed six runs (four earned) on eight hits with five strikeouts and three walks in four innings to take the loss for the Vikings.
Jackson County put itself in the driver’s seat with a four-run second inning that gave it a 5-0 advantage. It scored single runs in the first, fourth, fifth and sixth.
Hagwood combined for five innings of relief in the two games for East Hall, totaling four strikeouts, two walks and four earned runs on six hits allowed.
GAME 1: JACKSON COUNTY 7, EAST HALL 5: The Panthers turned the first game around behind a three-run top of the fourth that included four hits and a pair of Vikings miscues, tying it 4-all. East Hall turned a double play to make it two outs in that inning before Jackson County got going.
Caleb Matthews doubled and scored when Saine reached on an error. Saine eventually scored on an errant pickoff attempt, with Travis Vickers reaching on a single, stealing second, going to third on the same pickoff attempt and scoring on a Griggs single to tie the game.
A Cole single and Ellis RBI double, both with no outs in the top of the fifth, gave Jackson County a 5-4 lead and chased East Hall starter Eli Stuart. Tyler Sartain added a sacrifice fly for a 6-4 edge by inning’s end.
Vickers singled, stole two basses and came around on Cole’s RBI single for an insurance run in the sixth.
A Hagwood single, RBI doubles by Jonah Crocker and Hunter Strange and a Levi Crocker RBI single put East Hall up 3-0 through an inning. After Jackson County cut it to 3-1 in the top of the third, Strange walked, advanced on a passed ball and groundout and scored on a double steal for a 4-1 lead.
“They did a great job hitting anything we threw on the outer half of the plate early on,” Fountain said. “That’s why they hammered the ball.”
Crow said his team didn’t maintain its early sharpness.
“We just didn’t do enough of the little things to kind of hold onto that victory in the first game,” Crow said.
Griggs finished with eight strikeouts, three walks and two hit batsmen in the opener.
“We told (Griggs) to be a bulldog, put the team on his back,” Barbee said. “And that’s what he did.”