Coach Mark Ethridge knew his Jefferson County Warriors would come through. He just didn't expect the breakout performance to come against a region title contender.
The Warriors, whose playoff hopes were in jeopardy after this week's losses to Washington County and Harlem, qualified for the postseason for the first time in school history with a 6-4 stunner over Westside on Friday afternoon.
"We didn't come to spoil anything for anybody," Ethridge said. "We came to do what we had to do. We needed a win to stay in the (playoff) hunt."
The victory earned Jefferson County (7-14 overall, 5-4 Region 3-AAA) the region's fourth and final playoff spot, while spoiling Westside's championship hopes. Entering Friday's game, the Patriots trailed Harlem by one game in the standings and hoped their contest with the Bulldogs on Wednesday would be for the region crown.
Instead, Jefferson County's victory gave Harlem the title and the No. 1 seed outright. Westside is No. 2, and Cross Creek is No. 3.
The Warriors hold a two-game lead over fifth-place Washington County for the final playoff position. The Golden Hawks lost at Harlem on Friday night, which means that even if Jefferson County loses its final two region games, the Warriors still will head for the playoffs because they hold the tiebreaker over Washington County.
"For the past two years, we've wanted to go to the playoffs so bad, but we lost to Harlem (in the region playoffs) both times," said Jefferson County senior Drew Wren. "Westside beat us at home last time, and we wanted to get them back. Everybody on this team wanted this game as much as I did."
Westside (18-5, 8-2) played shoddy defense, committing three errors, and starting pitcher Alan Gregg was stung with the loss, despite allowing just one earned run.
Meanwhile, the Patriots' offense mustered just seven hits and managed one run, despite loading the bases twice in the first and second innings.
"They outplayed us, and we played poorly on defense," Westside coach Gerald Barnes said. "We didn't make plays when we had to. We tried to battle back, but we came up a little short."
Jefferson County strung together Texas-league hits and scored runs when they had to. The Warriors scored twice in the second on Wren's RBI single to grab a 2-1 lead, then Matt Guy made it 3-1 in the third with an RBI groundout.
The finishing blow came in the fourth on Tyler James' RBI single and Wren's fielder's choice, which scored a run to make it 6-1.
"We had a good day of batting practice yesterday, and we focused on hitting the ball," left fielder Robbie Morgan. "We knew we had to come out and hit the ball (off Gregg) because he's a real good hitter."
Guy started on the hill for the Warriors before Kyle Amerson took over to start the third. Westside managed four hits off the Jefferson County senior and chalked up a three-run sixth inning that was highlighted by Tony LeZotte's two-run double.
Amerson retired the Patriots' No. 4 through No. 6 hitters in the seventh to preserve the victory. After the game, players dumped the team's water cooler on Ethridge.
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.