Kelcey Butts took the ball in the opening game of the state playoffs with enormous expectations on his shoulders.
The Central senior hadn’t lost a game all season, but that mattered little now that the Chargers were hosting Fitzgerald in the first round of the GHSA Class AA playoffs.
It was Central’s first home playoff game recent history. The Chargers entered the game at 21-2, the best record of head coach Wayne Holleman’s 25-plus year tenure and possibly in school history.
None of that matched the pressure Butts placed on himself.
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“You just want to go out there and play your best,” said Butts, The Telegraph’s All-Middle Georgia GHSA Baseball Player of the Year. “But knowing we haven’t won in the playoffs in a long time made me really want to play well.”
The right-hander had been to the playoffs the year before in both baseball and football, but both teams lost in the playoffs. Butts had never won a playoff game in his career, and the Chargers hadn’t won a playoff game in any sport during the 2009-10 school year.
So with those expectations and the pressure squarely on his shoulders, Butts stepped to the mound and delivered like he had all season.
Butts pitched the Chargers to a 14-4 win in Game 1 of the series against Fitzgerald. After the Chargers dropped Game 2 by a 16-5 score, Butts and Holleman had a tough decision to make.
Butts only pitched five innings in Game 1 because of the mercy rule, and then he got a day off because of a scheduling quirk for Fitzgerald’s prom. Butts, however, had never pitched on short rest.
While they discussed the option of pitching on short rest, everyone involved with Central baseball had little doubt that Butts would get the ball in the decisive game.
Butts again went out and pitched like he had all season, going six innings and leaving the Chargers with the lead. Butts threw 170 pitches over the two games. The bullpen finished off the 6-5 win and the first playoff victory that anyone at the school could remember.
“You can’t say enough about what Kelcey did,” Holleman said. “He battled and gave us a chance to win two games. That’s all you can ask.”
The Chargers’ dream season ended with a Appling County sweep in the second round.
Butts finished the season 13-1 with a 2.80 ERA and struck out 124 batters in 72 innings.
No Middle Georgian won more games or had more strikeouts than Butts.
He was just as important with the bat. As the leadoff hitter, Butts finished the season hitting .444 with 16 RBI, 35 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.