KATHLEEN -- The level of pitching wasn’t really anything Veterans hadn’t seen all year.
It just didn’t seem that way.
Lean right-hander Jake Lee and big left-hander Ethan Gillis made the Warhawks look almost timid at the plate as Whitewater pitching paved the way for 1-0 and 5-1 wins Monday in a GHSA Class AAAA baseball semifinal series.
Starting pitcher Preston Sparks of Veterans threw seven innings of no-hit ball, but two singles and two flies led to the game-winning run in the eighth as Whitewater took a 1-0 extra-inning win in the opener. Winning pitcher Lee had a no-hitter for 5-1/3 innings, striking out 11 with one walk to get the win.
“The scouting report we got on him was dead on,” Veterans head coach David Coffey said. “He has command of three pitches, and he’ll throw them in any count.”
He needed them in a 1-0 game, but a two-run third was all Gillis needed in the nightcap. Veterans ends the season as 21-13 while Whitewater advances with a 29-5 mark.
The fewest runs Veterans had managed in consecutive games was three in March in a 2-1 loss to West Laurens and 4-2 loss to Tift County.
Just as rare is a doubleheader in which the opposing team gets two complete-game efforts in semifinals.
“Our guys have thrown that way all year,” Whitewater head coach Randy Bennett said. “I don’t know how many games they’ve gone into the sixth and seventh innings and finished.”
In the nightcap, the teams exchanged runs in the first as action picked up.
The Warhawks blew a chance in the second. Logan Arnett singled and was stealing when Jacob Giles hit behind him for a single to right. Arnett slowed near second rather than speed up, then stumbled heading to third.
He drew a strong throw and was safe, but Giles tried for second and was out by several feet for the second out.
“We made some mistakes,” said Coffey, who pulled out a sheet listing them. “There were just some things we didn’t execute.”
Whitewater second baseman Tyler Doanes made the play of the day in the third, diving away from the plate to haul in Kal Dempsey’s leadoff blooper. The momentum carried to the offensive side. A single, throwing error on a sacrifice bunt and a passed ball forced a 3-0 count to become an intentional walk to load the bases for the Wildcats with no outs.
Miles Jones’ fly to left brought in a run, but also advanced both runners, which paid off, since Jabari Richards’ fly to center plated another for a 3-1 lead.
Gillis, a Kennesaw State signee, struck out the side in the fourth.
Griff Faircloth took over for Ryan Johnson to start the bottom of the fourth, but the issue was still offense.
The Warhawks got the first two batters on in the fifth and to open the second and third but the Gillis shut them down.
The sign it was Whitewater’s day was in that inning, when Gillis dropped a foul pop up, but got a weak groundout to first a pitch later.
Two runs on a walk, steal, single, fielder’s choice, error and fly out put Whitewater on top 5-1 after five.
Gillis struck out 10 with one walk, his team being outhit 6-4.
The good news for both team’s batters in the first game was they were able to make to the dugouts with no problems, because they spent the game completely off-balance while in the batter’s box.
Starting pitchers Lee and Sparks had the breaking and off-speed stuff working, and neither defense had a whole lot of work to do with pretty routine flies, pops and grounders.
“I can’t recall any time I’ve seen anything like that,” Coffey said of duel no-hitters that late in a game. “Both pitchers were outstanding for five, six, seven innings.”
But the Warhawks had more chances to end it in regulation -- they had runners on in five of seven innings -- only for Lee, the Region 5-AAAA pitcher of the year to come through time and time again.
The biggest threat was in the sixth when a single, error in right and intentional walk loaded the bases with one out.
But the Georgia Tech-bound Lee got Pinckney and Sparks on strikeouts, naturally, to stop the threat..
Whitewater took longer to get its first hit of the game, and the Wildcats did something with it.
JD Norred broke up the no-hitter with a single to center, and the Wildcats added a high chopper just over Jacob Giles at third. Two fly balls, the big one from Nick Weinstein, brought in the run.
Colby Taylor needed 12 pitches to end it.
“He could throw a strike with any pitch on any count,” Arnett said of Lee. “I’ve never faced anybody that could throw any pitch in any count for a strike, no matter what.”
Coffey returns the vast majority of his position players, but scoring only one run in two games at home was a little surprising.
“We didn’t execute some of the small things,” Coffey said. “And it came back and it us. But again, that’s an outstanding team we played right there
“Hopefully, the state championship will go through Whitewater.”