It took all three games and a total of 21 innings to decide the winner of the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools’ Class AAA North Baseball Championship last week when Kirk Academy and Marshall Academy squared off on the diamond.
After dominating Game 1 of the series to win 4-1 on May 3 at home fueled by an eight strikeout performance on the mound by senior Dawson Clark, the Raiders (18-14) were unable to dig their way out of an early 3-0 hole last Wednesday afternoon in Game 2 in Holly Springs, losing 11-6. Late that night, Kirk came up short 7-5 in the deciding game to end its historic season.
“In the first game, I thought that we came out a little dull and kind of playing on our heels when we really should have been the aggressor up 1-0,” Bianco said after last Wednesday’s games. “The second game today was just a straight dogfight; it was as good as baseball as we could get. We were going blow for blow and they got a couple of more blows there at the end instead of us.”
Despite the season-ending losses, KA second-year head coach Michael Bianco was proud of the team’s resilience this year.
“It is a huge accomplishment, I’m proud of these guys,” Bianco said of his team’s runner-up finish, the first in 18 years. “Last year was technically my first year and I saw some strides through 10 games, but like I told these guys, I kind of consider this my first group because it was the first time we saw the season all the way through. I don’t like the whole we shouldn’t have been here spill, but it is true. I remember they came out with a couple of different rankings – Top 10 teams in AAA private – and we didn’t make any of them and I think we are the best two teams, so I kind of consider this a Top 2 finish for us. We just didn’t have enough at the end.”
After giving up three runs in the bottom of the first inning of Game 3, the Raiders battled back with one run in the top of the second on a double by sophomore outfielder Lane Goss, which scored junior infielder Ethan Presley, who singled earlier in the inning, stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice by senior catcher Parker Goodson. Sophomore infielder Hudson Mattox, who started on the mound for KA, tied the game 3-3 in the top of the third after belting a two-run homer over the center field wall scoring senior Jacob Habig, who drew a two-out walk.
Marshall Academy went on to score one run each in the bottom of the third and sixth innings and two in the fifth to build a 7-5 lead following a two-run fifth for the Raiders. Kirk sent four batters to the plate in the top of the seventh, but was unable to produce timely hits to force the game to the bottom half of the frame.
“I think that they had a couple of more timely hits, but we had our chances,” Bianco said. “We had bases loaded in the top of the sixth inning with the top of the order coming up with less than two outs and we couldn’t get it done; they did the opposite of that a couple of times. They had a couple of big two-out hits and that’s baseball. The team that makes those types of plays is usually going to win. You’ve got to tip your cap to them, they are a great team and hopefully we’ll run into them again next year.”
Goss also had a single in the game, while Presley added another one bagger. Freshman Carter Hathcock chipped in with two singles and Habig and Goodson had one apiece.
Mattox pitched 4.1 innings allowing four hits, five earned runs and struck out five batter. Carter Hathcock pitched the final 1.2 innings allowing two hits, an earned run and struck out two batters.
Bianco reflected on his upperclassmen following the loss.
“I can’t say enough about these seniors,” he said. “Only one of them right now is going to play college baseball, but they all three had great years. Jacob Habig bats .400, so hopefully somebody picks him up, Dawson Clark has like a 1.3 ERA and is like 7-1 and Parker Goodson works his butt off behind the plate and batted like .360. They were all great senior leaders; I couldn’t ask for anything else. I think that the future is bright, we’ve got a lot of good young guys coming back, but we’re going to miss that senior leadership for sure.”
Kirk Academy finished with 11 hits in Game 2 of the series with junior infielder Colbert Hathcock leading the charge with two doubles and a single. Habig also slapped a double, a single and drove in one run. Mattox (2 RBI), Presley (RBI), Goodson (2 RBI), Goss, Clark and Carter Hathcock chipped in with one single apiece.
Freshman Logan Pratt (4.1 innings) got the start on the mound for the Raiders. He allowed 10 hits, eight earned runs and struck out six batters. Presley recorded the last five outs, allowing one hit and striking out two batters.
The Raiders managed only six hits to start off the series with a win. Habig led the way finishing 2-for-3 with a double, single and 2 RBI, while Colbert Hathcock added a single and drove in one run. Presley chipped in with a one-run single, junior outfielder Houston Snyder added a single and Carter Hathcock also finished with a single.
As for the future of Kirk Academy’s baseball program, Bianco is optimistic.
“I think that our junior class is really good, our sophomore class isn’t very deep, but the guys that we have our really good, the freshmen guys have really stepped it up on the mound for us and I think the middle school group might be our best class, so I think that the future is really bright,” he concluded.