The Long County Blue Tide baseball team entered the 2021 AAA state playoffs as a number three seed out of Region 1-AAA, but they have proven that it is their playoff push that really matters. The team swept Region 2-AAA champion Pike County to advance to the state quarterfinals this week.
The Sweet Sixteen matchup in Zebulon began on Tuesday, May 4 and started as well as the Tide could have hoped. They score four runs in the top of the first off a two-RBI single from Noah Kuhaneck, another RBI single from Ethan Wells, and a bases loaded walk by Trevor Ray.
Kuhaneck took to the mound in the bottom of the inning and used just five pitches to sit the Pirates down and bring his team back up to bat.
The Tide were able to get two base runners on before Kuhaneck asserted himself again in the top of the second. He tore a hole in the sky and crushed a three-run home run and just as he crossed home plate, the skies opened up and the rains came down.
This caused a delay that would end up pushing the remainder of the game to Wednesday. Instead of Game 1 and Game 2 both being played Wednesday night, just Game 1 was played with Game 2 and the “if game” being played on Thursday.
Regardless of the situation, the Tide took the diamond on Cinco de Mayo and held off the defending state champions, allowing two runs in the bottom of the second and none for the rest of the game.
The Tide added three more runs in the top of the sixth inning on RBIs from Kuhaneck, Wells, and Joseph Cammack. The 10-2 lead held as they took Game 1 from the Pirates.
Game 2 on Thursday, May 6 was much more competitive. The game was tied at zero going into the top of the third inning and the Pirates finally got their bats going as they went up 3-0.
The Blue Tide did not let their deficit affect them that much, however, as they answered with three runs of their own. Jacob Struble brought in two, while Kuhaneck continued his hot streak, adding one more RBI to bring his series total to seven.
The Pirates fought back to take a 5-3 lead after the fourth inning. Once again, the Tide answered as Struble smacked another two-RBI single to tie the game at five going into the sixth inning.
The Tide were able to move a baserunner all the way to third as Giovanni Jackson scored on a passed ball at the plate to give his team the 6-5 lead going into the top of the final inning.
TJ Criswell took the mound as he struck out one, got another out at first and then caught a line drive hit right back at him for the final out of the game.
With the series win, the Tide move to 17-12 on the season and advance to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs for the first time since 2003. They will travel to Carnesville on Monday, May 10 to face off against the Franklin County Lions.
The Lions are currently 31-3 on the year and the champions of Region 8-AAA. The Lions have consistently been ranked in the top five of the state power rankings and are currently ranked number 2.
With a series win, the Blue Tide would advance to the Final Four for the first time since 1999.