Callaway advances to second round
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
They’re moving on.
The Callaway Cavaliers kicked off what they hope will be an extended playoff stay with a doubleheader sweep of Union County on Thursday.
After breezing to a 6-0 victory in game one behind the exceptional of pitching of Justin Moore, Callaway finished off the sweep with a hard-earned 4-3 victory in game two.
Callaway (19-10 overall) will look to continue its season when it travels to Floyd County to play the Pepperell Dragons in the second round on Tuesday.
Some of the players were a part of the 2019 team that reached the semifinals of the Class AA state playoffs before losing a heart-breaker to Rockmart.
A year ago, the Cavaliers were looking to make another deep playoff run, but the state tournament was canceled because of COVID-19.
Tucker Starling, who scored the winning run in game two and was also the winning pitcher, couldn’t wait to take to the diamond and get the long-awaited playoff run started.
“I was driving to the field today, and I was jamming to my music. I was happy. I was ready to play,” Starling said. “It was exciting. It’s a different kind of feeling in the playoffs. You try to treat it as another game so you don’t put too much pressure on yourself, but you just have a feeling. It’s the playoffs.”
In Thursday’s first game, Moore was overpowering, throwing a seven-inning, two-hit shutout while striking out 11 batters.
Bryce Hubbard had an RBI single during a four-run second inning, and Starling also knocked in a run.
In the second game, Starling started and pitched six solid innings, and Moore worked a scoreless seventh inning to secure the save.
The Cavaliers managed to score four runs in game two despite getting just one hit, an RBI single by Jacob Miles.
In the top of the seventh inning, Starling reached on an error leading off, and he later scored all the way from second on an errant pickoff attempt to give the Cavaliers the lead.
“I thought in the first game, Bryce had a big hit that gave us a little breathing room,” said Callaway head coach Dusty Hubbard. “In the second game we ran the bases pretty effectively, and they had some trouble with some wild pitches and stuff and we took advantage of it, and Tucker did a good job scoring on that play. He never slowed down. He was looking at me, and I rounded him, and he ended up scoring.”
The pitching in both games was superb for the Cavaliers.
Moore was untouchable in game one, and while Starling wasn’t quite as dominant in game two, he did a solid job of damage control, working around six hits and five walks to limit Union County to three runs in six innings.
For Moore, it was more of the same for a player who has been making opposing hitters look helpless since he arrived at Callaway as a freshman in 2019.
“It’s nice to have that horse,” Dusty Hubbard said.
Starling had his struggles, but he competed and kept his team in the game.
“That’s what we tell our starting pitchers, just give us a chance to win, and he did that,” Hubbard said. “He didn’t throw it all last week because of a sore arm. He was probably a little tired because he didn’t stay in that routine, but he did a great job.”
Union County’s pitchers were also terrific, giving up five hits in the two games combined.
“They’re a scrappy team,” Hubbard said. “I thought they had really good arms. The two leftys like that, and we hadn’t seen many all year long. It’s tough.”
Here’s a look at each of the games:
UNION COUNTY 0
Justin Moore delivered an electrifying performance on the mound, needing 100 pitches to throw a complete-game two-hitter while striking out 11 batters.
Offensively, the Cavaliers pushed four runs across in the third inning to take a commanding lead, and they capped the scoring with two runs in the bottom of the fifth.
Bryce Hubbard, who earlier in the week was named the Region 5-AA freshman of the year, had two hits including an RBI single, Andrew Locke and Jacob Miles each had a hit, and Tucker Starling walked and drove in a run.
CJ Stephens, Hubbard, Starling, Will Cavender Jacob Miles and Eli Freeman each scored runs for the Cavaliers.
Locke stole two bases, and Cavender, Hubbard, and Starling also had stolen bases.
In the third inning, Miles led off with a base hit, and after Eli Freeman was hit by a pitch, CJ Stephens reached on an error on a bunt attempt, allowing Miles to score the first run.
Next up was Hubbard, and his RBI single to right field gave the Cavaliers a 2-0 lead.
Stephens later scored on an error, and an RBI groundout by Starling gave the Cavaliers a 4-0 lead.
In a two-run sixth inning, Cavender stole home for a run, and Starling scored on an error to push the lead to 6-0.
UNION COUNTY 3
The Cavaliers had one hit and struck out 13 times against a pair of pitchers, but they found a way to win.
Trailing 1-0, the Cavaliers scored three runs in the third inning to take the lead, and they broke open a tie game with the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh.
“It was kind of an ugly win in the second game, but I’ll take an ugly win,” said Callaway head coach Dusty Hubbard.
In the three-run fourth inning, Blake Sheppard and Kaden Rogers led off with walks, and Jacob Miles came through with a clutch RBI single to right field to tie it.
Rogers and Miles later scored on wild pitches, and the Cavaliers had a 3-1 lead.
Union County tied it in the bottom of the fourth, with Lake Hughes coming through with a two-out, two-run single.
The score remained deadlocked until the Cavaliers manufactured a run in the top of the seventh.
Tucker Starling reached on an error to start the inning, and Justin Moore was hit by a pitch.
With one out, the ball sailed into the outfield on a pickoff attempt, and Starling never slowed and scored from second base to give the Cavaliers the lead.
“You don’t stop unless the coach tells you to stop,” Starling said. “If he tells me to stop, I can slide in the dirt and go back.”
Starling started and pitched six innings, and while he gave up six hits and five walks, he held Union County to three runs, all in the fourth inning.
Moore, after his dominant effort in game one, was called upon to get the final three outs, and he retired all three batters he faced with three strikeouts.
“that last inning, I felt like he had a lot of adrenaline, so his fastball was coming out way harder,” Starling said.