The Heard County Braves following a late night round two win at Dade County. The squad will return to Franklin Wednesday to host Berrien in the Elite 8 with a chance to earn a trip to the Final Four
(Trenton, GA) — Following a long day of travel and an even longer night of baseball in north Georgia, the Heard County Braves are going back to the Elite 8 for the third time in four years.
The Braves absolutely crushed the No. 6 ranked Region 7-AA Champion Dade County Wolverines Thursday and are now set to host the No. 10 ranked Berrien Rebels for an elusive trip to the state’s Final Four — something that hasn’t been accomplished in Heard County baseball since 1985.
The Braves (17-14) plated 36 runs in a round two doubleheader sweep over the Wolverines (20-8) taking game one 23-7 and winning the nightcap by a final of 13-5.
Several Braves had big days offensively, but none was more prolific than the game one performance from sophomore Tray Owens. Owens went 5-for-6 with two homers, a double, three runs scored, and five RBI’s to lead the way. The key blow was his 3-run blast to put the Braves up 3-1 in the top of the third.
The Wolverines bounced back with five runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a 6-4 lead but it was all Brave offense from then on out as the unranked road team pushed 19 runs across during the last three innings. The Braves pounded out 20 hits in the game that lasted well over three hours.
Junior catcher Will Hammett returned to the Brave starting line-up for the first time since being injured in a car accident two weeks ago and didn’t miss a beat at the plate going 4-for-5 with two doubles and five RBI’s.
Freshman left fielder Leroy Marsh provided some solid production for Coach Trent Bianco at the bottom of the order with three hits including a double, three runs scored, and two RBI’s.
Also getting in on the offensive action with multiple hits in game one were Dale Thornhill, Bryan Jones, and Davey Raines.
Senior A.J. Head came on in relief of Owens in the fourth inning to earn the postseason win.
Bryan Jones pitched to one batter before giving way to fellow senior Davey Raines who provided two valuable innings with the big lead. Coach Bianco says the work from Davey Raines was important because it allowed Jones to come back and start game two.
In that game two, the story was again the offense in a nightcap that didn’t see the first pitch until after 8:00 PM.
The Braves jumped out to an 8-1 lead after four innings before the Wolverines charged back with four in the top of the fifth inning to close it to 8-5.
Starting pitcher Bryan Jones would not allow them to score again as the senior hurler and game two MVP went the distance. Jones, who just announced this week that he will sign to play at Lagrange College next year, tossed all seven innings scattering three hits and walking four while allowing just three earned runs.
Jones struck out eight in one of his strongest outings of the season to earn the playoff win and send the Braves forward in the GHSA Class AA playoffs. Jones also had a hit and two RBI’s at the plate.
Tanner Collins was 2-for-3 with a triple, two runs, and two RBI’s. Marsh had another strong effort driving in two and center fielder Collin Wright played well in both games.
The Braves also played well defensively including a sparkling bare-handed play from SS Dale Thornhill in the seventh inning of game two.
An emotional Coach Trent Bianco talked after the game about how proud he is of a team that only started the season with a 1-8 record.
“It’s just a credit to our guys that we are back in the Elite 8 after starting 1-8 to open the season — but that’s our guys — coming to work every single day and believing in the process and believing that the tough non-region schedule would get us where we need to be,” said Bianco after the game.
The coach was also pleased to see the team not get overconfident after the scoring barrage in game one.
“We’ve won big in game ones before and then dropped the next two but these guys were able to forget about that first game and just go back to work in game two. I don’t think we’ve had a day that was more of a total team effort than we did today, said the fifth year Brave head coach. “I can’t begin to tell you how proud of our players, coaches and these seniors. We talk to our seniors each year about leaving a legacy and going to the Elite 8 three out of four years I am just so proud of this senior class.”
Bryan Jones echoed the sentiments of Coach Bianco about the hard work and practice time paying off.
“We’ve just been working our butts off day-in and day-out and grinding out three or four hour practices — then we just come out here and try to do the little things right and get some good pitching and today it paid off,” said Jones after the game.
The Braves will now host fellow No. 2 seed Berrien after they knocked off the Region 3-AA Champion Dodge County yesterday. Berrien is the No. 2 seed from Region 1-AA.
The teams will square off Wednesday in a doubleheader at Alford Field followed by a third and deciding “if” game Thursday if necessary.
The winner of that quarterfinal series will take on either Elbert County or Jeff Davis in the Final Four. The Braves would host Jeff Davis or travel to Elbert County. Stay tuned to HeardCitizen.com for further playoff info and game times as they become available.
Other Class AA teams securing spots in the Elite 8 Thursday were Callaway, Benedictine, and Social Circle. The state’s top ranked team, Thomasville, split with Harlem and those two teams will meet in a rubber game today at Thomasville.