It was an emotional roller-coaster ride for Pillow Academy in the first game of the state playoffs.
After tying the game in the bottom of the seventh inning with a grand slam from Eli Simmons, the Mustangs wound up losing 6-5 in eight innings to Hartfield Academy in the first game of a best-of-three State AAAA Division II playoff series.
Hartfield shook off the PA grand slam and came back in the top of the eighth to get what turned into the game-winning run on a pair of hits and a walk. The Hawks then used three different pitchers in the bottom of the frame for a three-up, three-down inning to seal it.
“Our kids have fought back all year, but we’ve got to be able to finish those close games,” PA coach Jud Thigpen said.
Senior Lake Giachelli got the start on the mound for Pillow and pitched well before running out of gas in the seventh after 112 pitches. The strong-armed right-hander gave up a lead-off home run to open the contest but then settled down for a solid outing. He also got some help from a couple of nice plays in the outfield, but in the end, it just wasn’t enough.
In what might have been the final home game of his impressive Mustang career, Giachelli went 72/3 innings and allowed six runs, five earned, while striking out five and walking two.
Pillow (11-8-1) needs to win back-to-back games Thursday at Hartfield (20-10) to make it back home next week for the second round.
The big blast in the seventh that kept the game alive was Simmons’ second homer in as many games. The sophomore blasted his first of the season last week in a 5-4 loss to rival Washington School. He finished 2-for-4 with a homer and a double.
Gavin Lessley, Shane Houston Stephens and Giachelli each had two hits. Jacob Bush added a double for the Mustangs.
The big four-run seventh started with a one-out single by Lessley, followed by singles from Giachelli and Stephens. That set the stage for Simmons’ dramatic bomb over the left-field fence.
With the game tied at 5, PA failed to threaten again in the seventh.
It looked like it might not be the Mustangs’ day when execution blunders kept them off the scoreboard in the fifth and sixth innings.
In the fifth, PA had runners at first and second with no outs. Hartfield left fielder Spence Drake made a running catch coming in, threw to shortstop Keil Reed who zipped it to first to catch both runners mistakingly trying to advance.
Thigpen said he called for a hit-and-run on the play, but that the base runners have to be aware of what is happening when the ball is hit in the air.
Then things took another wrong turn in the top of the seventh as the Hawks scored two insurance runs on a pair of hits and a passed ball.
For Hartfield, Reed led its 11-hit attack with a homer and a double.