The Long County Blue Tide baseball team evened up the series with the region front running Appling County Pirates Wednesday in Ludowici. The Blue Tide have found themselves in the middle of close, nail biting games in all of their 8 region contests so far this season. This time, Long County would take the lead late and hold on for a hard fought, emotional 4-3 victory.
Ethan Williams (5IP 4H 3R 1ER 2K 2BB) started for the Blue Tide, and in perhaps his best performance of the year, picked up the win for the home team.
“You can see him getting stronger week to week on the mound. He started settling in last week against Pierce and he built on that performance tonight,” Coach James Hobbs said.
The Pirates scored first in the 2nd inning on a sacrifice fly by pitcher Harrison Simmons, scoring Shawn Brown and giving the Pirates a 1-0 lead. It would stay 1-0 going to the bottom of the 3rd, when the Blue Tide tied the game.
TJ Criswell lead off the inning by reaching on an error. Allen Crystal was hit by a pitch and Luke Wells walked to load the bases. With 1 out, Rex Johnson flied out to center to score Criswell, tying the game at 1-1.
The Pirates took the lead right back in the top of the 4th on a throwing error and the Tide’s inability to secure the ball, as Brown scored all the way from 1st base. Williams however struck out the next two Pirate batters to end the inning down 2-1. The visitors added a 3rd run in the top of the 5th on a long RBI double to left by Pirate short stop Luke Hutchinson.
Given the misfortunes the Tide have experienced in the late innings, a 3-1 deficit in the 5th presented a challenge, and the Long County team would respond in the bottom of the 5th.
Criswell and Williams led off the inning with back to back singles, and advanced to 2nd and 3rd on a wild pitch. That sent Allen Crystal to the plate with a chance to tie the game. And as he has done virtually all year, the junior right fielder singled to right scoring both runners, tying the game at 3-3. Luke Wells followed with a single and Dwayne Rowe advanced to first on a dropped strike three to load the bases.
With one out and the bases loaded, Tide short stop Ethan Wells, seeing his first action in 13 games due to a medical issue, was able to score Crystal from 3rd with another Blue Tide run on a sacrifice fly making the score 4-3 Long County.
Hobbs was glad to have Wells back. “Ethan being back is a huge confidence boost for the guys. He is our short stop. He has a chemistry with Luke (Wells) at 2nd. They feed off each other and know what each other is doing. And it’s another strong bat in the lineup.”
TJ Criswell (2IP 0H 0R 2K 1BB) came on in the 6th to preserve the win for Long County and pitched 2 nearly perfect innings to seal the victory and turn the tables on the rash of late inning losses that have plagued the Blue Tide all year.
Any region win is critical, but this one was especially big for a Blue Tide team that continues to fight their way into a possible playoff position. Appling County, a long-standing excellent program, sits atop the Region 2AAA standings. And considering the way these late inning tight games have gone for the Long County team, the win was that much more important.
“Beating the number one team in the region…definitely builds confidence,” Hobbs commented. “We played them close Monday as well (2-1 loss.) It shows we can play with anybody when we piece it all together. We are figuring out what it takes to finish games. TJ came in and took control. He pounded the zone and worked fast, controlling the pace of the game, which is something we’ve been preaching in practice. And it keeps our defense on its toes.”
The Tide were led offensively by Allen Crystal (2-3 2RBI 1R) Ethan Williams (2-4, 1R) and TJ Criswell (2-4 2R.) Ethan Wells and Rex Johnson also provided an RBI each in the winning effort.
As of press time Friday evening, the two teams were set to square off again for game 3 at 6 p.m. in Baxley.