By Mark Clark
With three games remaining as the Central High Red Devils headed into the final week of regular season play, the team had nothing to play for – or did it? Having been eliminated from the possibility of postseason play by Smiths Station High a week earlier, there was only one reason to keep playing through those final three games – pride. Well, that, and a chance to build on the future of the program. Central won two of the final three games and had it not been for one bad inning against Northside High of Columbus, the Red Devils might have closed out the season with three wins. Instead, Central lost the final game of the year 9-5. They won the two other games in the last week 5-2 over Shaw High of Columbus and 6-2 over Harris County (Ga.) High.
“It was a tough week to get motivated to play. It was also hard to get motivated to coach,” Central coach AJ Kehoe said. “There is no doubt it was important for us to come in as a staff and talk the kids into staying on track and to finish like we should. I think our guys did a good job of remaining focused.”
The players who suffered through the final week the most were without a doubt the Red Devil seniors, who were playing their final high school baseball games. The team, with its final two victories, finished the year at 23-14 – perhaps just one victory short of making the playoffs.
“I am proud of the seniors. They had a good final week. They love the game and they were going to keep working until the end,” Kehoe said.
As Kehoe wishes his seniors the best for the future, he expects his younger players to learn from this past season.
“I think the younger kids see how baseball is a game of ups and downs. I think they will work harder next season after feeling disappointment this year. We will give them a week off and let the coaches prepare for the postseason meetings with the individual players who will return next season. We will be honest with them. Our record this season meant nothing as far as our goals were concerned. It is nice to have a winning season, but we missed our goals. We wanted to play for an area title and make the playoffs. Missing out on those goals was very disappointing, but were there some underlying things that were positive? Of course, there were some. We just have to remember them and correct what we did wrong. We’ve got to get the kids to work hard and reach our goals next year,” Kehoe said.
Central began last week with its 5-2 victory over Shaw. Central scored three runs in the second inning and added single runs in the fourth and fifth innings to put the game away. Central did not allow a run to the Raiders until the seventh inning. In the second inning, Mason Davis started things off with a single. Noah Butler followed with another single. Jeremy Thorn reached base on a fielder’s choice that saw Davis thrown out at third. With two outs, Jordan Mitchell singled to load the bases. Andrew Valero then cleared the bases with a double to give Central a 3-0 lead. In the fourth inning, Butler singled and was replaced on the bases by pinch-runner DJ Rias. Rias stole second and then scored on a double by Mitchell. Central led 4-0.
Central scored its final run in the fifth inning. Alex Baker singled and stole second base. He went to third on an error and scored on a ground ball by Tommy Vickers.
Tyler Horsley was the winning pitcher with relief help from Zach Bozeman, Tucker Melton and Baker. Butler and Mitchell were both 2-for-3 to lead Central at the plate. Valero was 1-for-4 with three RBI. Davis was 1-for-2 while Baker was 1-for-3.
The Red Devils fell behind 2-0 to Harris County, but scored three runs in each of the fourth and fifth innings to win 6-2. Zach Johnson was the winning pitcher. He went four innings, allowed one earned run and gave up six hits. Peyton Burton earned a save, going three innings, allowing no runs on two hits.
Butler was 2-for-2 at the plate to lead the Red Devils. Valero was 2-for-4 with a double. Jay Kehoe, PJ Ramsey and Baker were each 1-for-2. Baker had a double. Slade Gorman and Rias were both 1-for-3. Melton was 0-for-1 with two RBI. Central got the runs it needed to win in the fourth inning. Baker doubled to begin the inning and scored on a single by Gorman. Gorman went to second on a balk. He took third when Butler singled. Gorman scored on a ground out by Kehoe. Butler scored when Melton grounded out.
In their final game of the season, Central lost to Northside 9-5. Northside scored twice in the first inning, four times in the second and once in each of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Central scored a run in the first and then four in the fifth inning. Horsley took the pitching loss for Central. Tyler Haines, Bozeman, Burton and Baker also saw duty on the mound.
Gorman was 2-for-3 at the plate with three RBI for Central in his final game as a Red Devil. Baker, also playing his final game, was 2-for-4 with one RBI. Riley Rutledge was 1-for-2 in his last game for Central. Melton was 1-for-2 and Butler was 1-for-3.