A year ago, the Pike Liberal Arts baseball team tasted defeat in the semi-finals of the AISA baseball tournament.
But that was a year ago.
The Patriots again found themselves in the semi-finals this season, however, unlike last year, the team’s season did not come to an end.
Thanks to a sweep of the Macon-East Knights at Butch Austin Field Wednesday night, the Patriots were able to avenge a loss to the Knight, which came earlier in the season, and more importantly, take the final step towards winning a state championship.
PLAS defeated Macon-East by the scores of 8-3 in game one and 12-1 in six innings in game two.
“This win is for all those kids that had worked so hard (for this program) that didn’t make it to the championship game,” head coach Butch Austin said.
“There were four or five times when (PLAS) had lost in the semi-finals. I am proud of all these kids and to be here,” the coach said.
The second win on Wednesday was also a milestone win for the PLAS head coach as it was his 300th career victory with the school.
This will be the first time the baseball team has advanced to the AISA state championship game since the late 1990s.
Before the series, Austin talked about how his pitchers would have to be effective against a tough Macon-East lineup.
After shaky starts for both, that’s exactly what Will Starling and Justin McLaughlin gave their coach.
Starling took the mound in game one, and after giving up a run in the first two innings, took control, cruising through the next five, pitching a complete game while collecting 12 strikeouts in the process.
Starling did give up three hits on nine hits while walking four Knight batters.
Like his senior counterpart, McLaughlin also pitched a complete game, giving up just one run off five hits, while striking out six.
“Both settled down in around the third and fourth innings,” Austin said. “And they both pitched very well.”
For the first time this tournament, the Patriots found themselves trailing in the first game of the series – but that would be something that would not last for very long.
Down 2-0, PLAS was able to tie the game up in the bottom of the second, thanks to Lawson Stewart and Ross Hixon who were able to bring in Logan Stewart and Blake Floyd on a Fielder’s Choice and a single.
The very next inning, the Patriots were able to take advantage of Knight errors to the tune of three runs.
Home runs by Starling and Floyd in the fourth and sixth innings sealed the win.
Logan Stewart and Floyd finished the first match up going 4-4 and 2-4 with two RBIs, respectively.
While the first game was relatively close, the second game was what Patriot fans have become accustomed to – an offensive explosion.
Nick McLaughlin put his team on the board in the top of the first inning thanks to a monster three-run home run over the left field wall.
PLAS would add two more in the second inning off a Macon-East error and a Nick McLaughlin walk with the bases loaded.
After the Knights got on the board in the bottom of the third, Trey Walters got the run back in the next half inning with a solo home run.
But the senior wasn’t done just yet.
After Hixon blasted a shot over the left field wall, Walters followed it up with his second home run of the game to give PLAS an 8-1 lead.
In the top of the sixth inning, Floyd, Lawson Stewart, Hixon and Walters would all add RBIs to improve the Patriot lead to 12-1.
“It’s awesome,” Walters said after the game.
“Coming in to the game, I think we were all a little nervous – but we settled down and made sure we did what we had to do to win.
“Of course we wanted to go further (last season) but now we are right where we want to be,” the senior added.
Walters finished the game going 3-4 with two home runs and three RBIs, while Hixon finished 3-5 with a home run and two RBIs.
Nick McLaughlin finished 1-3 with a home run and four RBIs.
“It feels great to finally be there,” Hixon said.
“We had been working hard all season long. We all felt like we should have been there last year, but to do it as a senior is unbelievable.
“All the seniors on this team felt it was our responsibility to get this team to the championship game, and now we are there,” he added.
The Patriots will now advance to Paterson Field, in Montgomery, where it will await the winner of the Glenwood and Monroe Academy series.
The Class AAA championship series will begin on Wednesday, May 5 at 4 p.m.