RINGGOLD— West Hall coach Dustin Rennspies threw about everything he had at Ringgold on Saturday, including five pitchers.
In the end it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the thing the Spartans lacked most — playoff experience.
Ringgold starting pitcher Zach Morris capped seven solid innings with a game-ending strikeout, and the Tigers pulled out a 7-6 victory over the Spartans in Game 3 of the Class AAA first round series at Bill Womack Field.
Ringgold (21-8), which has made the state playoffs each of the last five seasons, advances to the second round to face Hart County.
West Hall’s season is complete, but after a year in which the Spartans (19-10) earned their first playoff appearance since 2003, Rennspies didn’t lose sight of the positive things his players accomplished.
“I just told them there’s no reason to hang their heads,” Rennspies said. “They had a very successful season, came on the road against a very good program and gave them everything they wanted. Bottom line is, we made more mistakes than they did, and that’s why they won.
“But these seniors have laid the groundwork for where this program needs to go and hopefully these younger guys, hopefully it eats at them a little bit and makes them strive to be better ball players.”
Ringgold played as the away team in Game 3 after losing the coin flip.
The Tigers broke a 5-5 tie in the top of the fifth on a solo homer to left field by Chase Burke, and added a critical insurance run in the sixth when Slade Dale reached out for a pitch and poked the ball to center field to drive in Logan Baldwin from second.
West Hall got one of those runs back in the bottom of the seventh when Zach English reached on an error and later scored on a groundout by Cameron Johnson, but Morris retired the next two Spartans with the help of a spectacular diving catch by second baseman Hayden Moss. The infielder sprinted back into the outfield and laid out to snare a blooper off the bat of Will Simmons for the second out.
Morris allowed five earned runs on seven hits while striking out five.
The Spartans inadvertently helped the big right-hander on multiple occasions with baserunning mistakes and poor execution on bunt attempts.
West Hall batters twice popped out on sacrifice bunt attempts, including one that resulted in a double play.
Rennspies acknowledged that the Spartans’ lack of postseason experience likely factored in to some of the fundamental mistakes.
“We tried to prepare them as best we could, but until you get in that (postseason) environment you never know how you’re going to react,” Rennspies said.
“We reacted bad in some situations, but this is the deal, are you going to learn from it? When you find yourself in this position next year, you’ve been here, you’ve done that, (and) we should be more prepared as a group next year, emotionally.”
The Spartans took their only lead of the game, 2-1, in the bottom of the first courtesy of run-scoring hits by Will Simmons and Brian Newman. West Hall spent most of the remainder of the afternoon playing catch-up.
The Tigers tied the game in the top of the third on a sacrifice fly, then struck for three runs in the fourth to take a 5-2 lead.
West Hall responded with three runs of its own in the bottom of the fourth, including two on run-scoring singles by Michael Cronic and Johnson.
Cronic led West Hall with two hits, while Johnson finished with a hit and two RBIs.
The Spartans extended the series, and their season, to Game 3 with a 4-1 victory in Game 2 Friday night behind English, their undefeated ace. The senior right-hander finished the season 8-0.
“(We) just felt like every time he took the ball, we were going to get five, six, seven innings out of him and be in position to win the ball game,” Rennspies said. “He’s a hell of competitor on that mound, a great high school pitcher.”