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Panthers win 1 of 3
LCHSs first state playoffs end during first round
Shortstop Chris Arnold awaits a throw from first baseman Byron Callahan as a Cougar slides into third. Pitcher Skyler Hoffer backs up Arnold in the second leg of an attempted double play with third baseman Eddie Chipple throwing out a Cougar at first. - photo by Pat Watkins / Coastal Courier
CORDELE — Liberty County High’s initial trip to the state baseball playoffs didn’t last for long, but true to the spunk they showed all season the Panthers carried Crisp County down to the wire in a best-of-three weekend series.
A 3-0 loser to the host Cougars in the opening game, coach Steve Cotrell’s visitors posted an extra-innings 11-10 win in game two before bowing 8-3 in Saturday’s deciding contest.
“Even though we’re not moving on in the playoffs, I’m extremely proud of our kids,” Cotrell said after the finale that advanced the now 20-9 Region 1-AAA runner-up Cougars to a second-round date with top-ranked Columbus (25-3).
“In making it to the state playoffs for the first time in the (16-year) history our school, we wound up with the most wins ever in a season (a 13-12 mark in 2003 was the previous best).
“Our seniors are more or less a bunch of athletes we made into baseball players. They’ve set the pedestal — the standard — that the state playoffs should now be our goal every year.
“Overall, we fought hard all year and with the bunch of young kids we have coming back this is a great experience for next season.”
A recap of the contests in the order they were played follows:
Cougars 3, Panthers 0
Ben Massey’s serious flirtation with a no-hitter highlighted the series opener, during which Crisp also played solid defense and got enough offense to come out on top.
The only hit Massey allowed came with one out in the seventh when losing pitcher Skyler Hoffer bounced a one-out seventh inning single up the middle just out of reach of Cougar freshman second baseman Will Jones.
In holding the Panthers at bay, the Cougars’ senior righthander struck out nine and walked three. Hoffer, who struck out three, walked two and allowed six hits and all three Crisp runs, also pitched well before being relieved in the sixth by Eddie Chipple who fanned the side.
“Not to take anything away from their guy (Massey), but in our tough sub-region we saw pitching like that quite often,” Cotrell said afterward.
“Not ever having been in the state playoffs before, I just think we were a little tight and that plus the fact their kids got timely hits was the difference.
“Skyler (who is headed to Middle Georgia College on scholarship) pitched well for us, too, until tiring there at the end.”
Crisp, which scored twice in the fourth and picked up its final run in the sixth, got a pair of doubles from Marc Overstreet and a double a single from Jordan Roberts.
Panthers 11, Cougars 10
While Massey had the Panthers figuratively eating out of his hands in the series opener, he quickly got bit by them in the second contest.
Aaron Hoffer bounced a two-out double down the left field line before brother Skyler brought him home with a single. Chris Arnold followed with an RBI double to make it 2-0.
When Crisp responded by gradually building an 8-2 lead it carried into the bottom of the sixth, though, the outlook appeared dim indeed for Liberty County.
Cotrell even admitted to being “down and out and thinking about getting our young kids into the game at that point.” The mood of Cotrell and his players immediately changed, though, when the Panthers came up with a six-hit, six-run scoring binge highlighted by back-to-back homers.
With two teammates aboard, Skyler Hoffer slugged the first shot over the 375-foot sign in dead center to make it 8-7. Arnold followed with a solo blast to left for the tie.
“For some reason, our seniors and the older kids said ‘lets pick it up’ and they did just that as I guess they didn’t want their season to end this way,” Cotrell said.
The Cougars threatened to regain the lead in the seventh when they loaded the bases with two outs only to have the inning end on a force play at second on one of the numerous disputed calls made during the series by the three-man umpiring crew.
After both teams missed out on scoring chances in the eighth when Crisp left a man at third and Liberty County’s Arnold just missed ripping a three-run homer to deep left center, the scoring resumed in the ninth.
The Cougars got a two-run homer from Drew Stewart, but they couldn’t pile on when Skyler Hoffer grabbed an over-the-the fence ball that would have scored more. And the Panthers again crawled off the deck to score three times in their half of the ninth for the win.
After loading the bases on a pair of singles by Aaron Pringle and Kendrick Jones and a walk by Ethan Pringle, Liberty got its first run when Brad Harris was plunked by a pitch.
Aaron Hoffer then delivered the tying score with a bloop single to right. Arnold ended the game by drawing a bases-loaded walk on a 3-2 count.
“Unbelievable,” Cotrell succinctly summarized the mammoth comeback. “That’s the only word I can think of to describe this.
“But then we’ve been a good comeback team all year, winning several games late, even on the road and that’s really made the difference in the kind of year we’ve had.”
Skyler Hoffer and Harris finished with three safeties apiece to lead the Panthers’ 17-hit attack that also included a pair of safeties by Aaron Hoffer, Arnold, Aaron Pringle and Jones.
The mound win went to Cody French, the last of seven pitchers the Panthers employed in the marathon, high-scoring four-hour contest that was in direct contrast with the fast-paced two-hour lidlifter.
Cougars 8, Panthers 3
The same pitcher (Deal) the Panthers roughed up the night before kept them primarily under control Saturday. In going the distance, the junior southpaw struck out 12, walked two and effectively scattered eight hits, five of them in the first couple of innings.
After spotting Liberty a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on Skyler Hoffer’s double that plated Ethan Pringle, who had singled, Crisp took the lead for good with four runs in its initial at-bat. Two of them crossed on Stewart’s long homer to right center.

The Panthers immediately closed to within 4-3 with a pair of second-inning scores produced by starting pitcher Justin Eaton’s single that delivered Aaron Hoffer and Aaron Pringle who had reached on hits.
Crisp made it 6-3 with a pair of unearned, third-inning tallies and then in the sixth closed out the scoring with a pair of sixth inning scores.
“We came out a little sluggish and put ourselves in a hole when we gave up those four runs in the first as that took away our ability to play a little small ball,” Cotrell said.
“It looked like both teams were just trying to survive the middle innings, but when they got the two-run double in the sixth that took a little more air out of us.
“Even then, though, our guys kept battling as we loaded the bases there in the seventh and were just a batter away of bringing the potential run to the plate just as we had done in our first-game loss.”
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