The Long County High School baseball team took on Appling County on Friday in Ludowici. The Pirates came into the game undefeated at 19-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state, according to the GaPrep.com/GACA poll. In addition to battling one of only two undefeated high school baseball squads in Georgia, the Blue Tide also faced Major League Baseball top prospect Byron Buxton. Although the Tide was the obvious underdog in the game, Long County gave Appling a run for its money. It took the Pirates a full seven innings to beat the Tide, 4-3.
In the first three and a half innings, the Tide couldn’t get much going. The Pirates took an early 2-0 lead, but in the bottom of the fourth inning, Austin Middleton nailed a double and eventually rounded the bases to make the score 2-1 at the end of the fourth.
In the fifth and sixth innings, Blue Tide starting pitcher Luke Golden performed well, but the Pirates extended their lead to 4-1 midway through the inning. In the bottom of the sixth, Appling County allowed a walk followed by a wild pitch, and the Blue Tide’s Shawn Mills rounded the bases to narrow the score to 4-2 with one inning left to play.
In the top of the seventh inning, Golden lit up the Pirates, sending the first three batters back to the dugout. In the bottom of the seventh, Long County’s first batter, Shane Deloach, advanced to first base after being hit by the Appling pitcher. The second and third batters, Tristan Goodro and Golden, both were thrown out at first, but Deloach advanced for the score, making it 4-3.
Blue Tide catcher John Christianson went to the plate and also was hit by a pitch, putting the Blue Tide’s tying run at first base with two outs. Appling County coach Jeremy Smith then put the game in the hands of his best player, pulled Buxton from centerfield and sent him to the pitcher’s mound.
Blue Tide junior Shawn Mills came to the plate. Buxton threw his best at Mills and, according to a speed gun behind the catcher’s mound, all of his pitches were just above 90 mph. Mills fought to a full count, bringing everyone at Raymond Fulcher Field to their feet as Buxton threw his final pitch. Mills swung but missed, ending the game. The Tide came up a short, losing 4-3.
“That’s the best team in the state over there. They’ve got the best player, a great pitching staff, good offense, good defense, they’re well-coached — just top-notch all the way across the board,” Long County head coach Brian Thomas said. “My guys played great. We pitched well, played good defense. We just came up a little short at the plate.”
Thomas said that even though his team lost to the Pirates, he hopes they’ll be inspired to play well throughout the rest of the season.
“I hope that this game shows our guys that they can play with anyone in the state,” he said. “I also hope that they will be as dedicated for the remainder of our games, to prepare for those games like they did for this one.”
With the loss, the Tide fall to 6-14 overall and 2-10 in Region 2-AA. Appling improved to 20-0 and 13-0 in the region.
The Blue Tide has another region game at 6 p.m. Tuesday against McIntosh County (5-14) in Ludowici. It’s “Recreation Night,” so all Long County recreation department baseball players and coaches who wear their uniforms will get into the game for free.