SWAINSBORO, Ga. -- The way Swainsboro's Robby Kasper sees it, he pitches better when the pressure's on.
In the final game of the Tigers' best-of-three first-round series with Pike County on Monday, Kasper had the perfect situation to prove his mettle.
With runners on first and second and the Tigers holding a slim 9-8 lead, Kasper got Pike's Russell Vaughn on a groundout, then struck out John Bywaters to send Swainsboro into the second round of the Class AA state baseball playoffs with a 9-8 victory.
The Tigers (27-5) advance to play host to Cook County in the Class AA second round Friday. The best-of-three series will begin with a doubleheader at 4:30 p.m.
Kasper picked up the save in relief of winning pitcher Raymond Alford.
"I knew I had to come in and set them down," said Kasper, who was the losing pitcher in Game 2 on Saturday. "I knew what I had to do. I just had to stay focused, and even though I gave up that run, it didn't really mean anything. I think I throw harder and pitch better when I'm under pressure."
Kasper's save in the seventh was only part of an eventful game . The Tigers exploded for four runs in the bottom of the sixth to take the lead after trailing for most of the game.
Swainsboro's rally started at the bottom of the lineup with Jesse Anderson reaching on a double with one out. A batter later, back-to-back walks to Brandon Andrews and Alford loaded the bases before Anderson scored to trim the lead to 7-6, setting up Henry Hall's heroics.
Hall lined a pitch deep in the hole between first and second base, and Pike's Josh Reeves dived to make the stop. However, with Pike pitcher Justin Hogan covering first base, Reeves' throw sailed over Hogan's glove, allowing Andrews and Alford to score, making it 8-7.
"I just wanted to hit the ball," said Hall, who finished the game 1-for-4 with an RBI single. "I just wanted to get the ball in play."
Rhett Womack's RBI single later in the inning scored Hall and gave Swainsboro a two-run cushion at 9-7.
But as dramatic as the late innings were for the Tigers in Game 3, it certainly looked dim to start. Pike's Jeremy Waters smashed a three-run homer over the right field fence to start the game, giving the Pirates (25-5) a 3-0 lead.
Swainsboro gradually clawed its way back into the contest, pushing a run across the plate in the second before taking a 4-3 lead with a three-run third inning.
But Pike quickly came back, using a two-run homer from Nathan Miller in the fourth to regain the lead at 5-4, then increased its lead to 7-5 in the fifth on another two-run homer from Miller. All of the Pirates' runs came from three homers in the game.
"This team never quits," Hall said. "We stay in the game all the way until the end. It's not the way you start the game, it's how you finish it.
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216.
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