GRAY, Ga. - Daniel Benton spent almost half a day at his baseball field. Literally.
He got there around 8:30 in the morning, slipped into a couple classes on the seniors' final day at Jones County High School, came back and left about 11 hours later. With a smile.
The 5-foot-10 senior hit a grand slam that dug Jones County out of an early hole, then came on to provide clutch relief pitching as the Greyhounds got past Lakeside-Evans 9-6 in eight innings Thursday to advance to the GHSA Class AAA baseball quarterfinals.
Jones County (25-5) will host Oconee County on Monday. Starting time for the doubleheader will be determined today. Lakeside-Evans, which had chances galore in the three-game series, ends its season at 21-9.
Benton teamed with starting pitcher Justin Tyler in the win. Benton, after six innings on the hill Wednesday, took over in the sixth and promptly surrendered a run by hitting a batter with the bases loaded.
Benton ended that inning with a strikeout, then survived two errors behind him to roll through the final two innings, striking out three of the 11 batters he faced.
"I was a little tired, but I thought I could throw strikes," said Benton. "I was sore, but when the adrenalin's going, it doesn't matter how sore you are."
Tyler struggled early on the mound and at the plate, then came alive with the bat. The Mississippi State signee provided the game-winning run in the eighth.
The eighth-inning rally started with two outs before freshman Aaron Patterson and senior Andrew Belcher singled to right. Tyler, who was 0-for-3 before an RBI single in the sixth, tried to stay patient against Chris Synan, Lakeside's third pitcher.
He trailed 0-2 in the count, then stroked a solid single to center. Center fielder Carlos Markyna hesitated when he got the ball and a bad throw home allowed Patterson to score, making it 7-6.
James Brinson then slapped an opposite-field double down the third baseline into the corner for two more runs.
Lakeside's Matt Shelton reached on an error to open the bottom of the eighth and Preston Crews singled two outs later. But Benton ended the game with a strikeout of Danny Ryan, who'd belted a solo homer in the fifth.
The Panthers jumped on top early. Eric Mamo made Tyler pay for a walk and hit batter with a grand slam in the bottom of the second. Tyler, inconsistent most of the day, promptly settled down and retired 10 straight.
Benton had the big-hit answer in the top of the third after the Greyhounds got a run on Belcher's double, Brinson's single, and a walk. Benton wasted no time depositing the ball over the wall in left-center.