WARNER ROBINS -- Jordan McIlwain pitched a five-inning no-hitter in the series opener, and Houston County scored the game-winning run in its final at-bat in the second game to earn a series sweep of Lee County Wednesday in the second round of the GHSA Class AAAAA baseball state playoffs.
Houston County (23-5) won Game 1 10-0 and followed with a 4-3 win for the sweep.
The Bears advance to the quarterfinals for the second time in school history and will host Flowery Branch Tuesday at the Bears Den.
McIlwain was sharp from the start in Game 1, mixing his fastball, change-up and curve effectively to keep the Trojans’ hitters off balance.
The Bears’ offense also clicked, but McIlwain hardly needed any help.
A three-run home run in the first by Blake Jackson was enough support, but the Bears added four in the second and a run in each of the final three innings of the mercy-rule shortened game. Justin Jones added a home run in the second inning.
McIlwain struck out seven and needed just 73 pitches to finish off the no-hitter. Lee County reached base just three times, on two errors and a walk.
“I felt great right when I took the mound,” McIlwain said. “All three pitches were there. You get a lot of confidence when you pitch with the lead.”
The second victory didn’t come as easy.
Lee County starter Garet Morrell was sharp and pitched with confidence after his offense gave him the lead in the first inning.
The Trojans led 3-1 in the top of the fourth when the Bears’ Game 2 starter Hunter Phillips knocked in Hunt Smith with a sacrifice fly. The score stayed the same heading into the final inning.
After the Morrell walked the first two batters of the top of the seventh, Jeremiah Stephens attempted to lay down a bunt to give the Bears runners at second and third with one out. Morrell fielded the bunt and threw wide to first. The ball skirted away and the Bears scored both runs to take the one-run lead in the top of the seventh.
Conner Smith pitched a scoreless seventh to earn the save, although the biggest play came when Stephens cut down Nick Bruner attempting to steal second after reaching base on an error to start the inning. Smith got a groundout and a strikeout to end the game.
“This bunch doesn’t give up,” Houston County head coach Jason Brett said. “We talked about that before our last at-bat. We’ve come too far to go down without a fight.”