Northside faces deciding Game 3 following first-day split against Union Grove

WARNER ROBINS — Held hitless in 12 at-bats in Game 1, the top half of the Union Grove lineup came to life in the nightcap with three solo home runs as the Wolverines survived elimination with a 10-5 win over Northside in the second game of a GHSA Class AAAAA opening round playoff series Friday.

The third game of the series is scheduled for 3 p.m. today at Northside.

Playing as the visitor in Game 2, Northside jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning. But Ryan Griffin and Tyler Padgett hit solo homers to tie the game in the bottom half of the frame. Jordan Akins added another solo blast in the third to give the Wolverines a lead they would never relinquish.

“They took a better approach in Game 2,” Union Grove head coach Allen Franklin said. “We decided to hit the ball better like we have all year.”

Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler was ejected from Game 2 for arguing a play at first base. By rule, he cannot coach his team today.

The play in question came shortly after Akins’ homer. With the Wolverines leading 3-2, Northside turned what appeared to be an inning-ending double play. But the first-base umpire ruled that Northside first baseman Jake Deason had been pulled off the bag. A few moments later, Michael Thorne hit a three-run home run to put Union Grove up 6-2.

“(That call) changed the whole complexion of the game,” Kinsler said afterward.

In Game 1, Northside sluggers Kevin Gifford and Kyle McArthur each drove in four runs and lefthander Justin Key pitched a six-hitter as the Eagles defeated Union Grove 9-3.

Northside (16-11) rallied from deficits of 1-0 and 3-1 and it was Gifford who delivered the tying blow both times. In the third inning, he hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly that scored freshman Cole McArthur. In the fifth, Gifford again came through with the bases loaded.

His ground-rule double to right-center off Wolverines reliever and loser Adam Lass tied the game again. Kyle McArthur then followed with a two-run single that put Northside on top for good.

“We’ve had some really good comebacks,” Kyle McArthur said. “We were able to keep our heads up. We weren’t too worried. We knew our bats would keep us in the game.”

The two seniors struck again in the sixth inning. Gifford’s double to right scored Jordan Couilliard. McArthur then followed with a mammoth home run high over the scoreboard in left-center field.

Key allowed only one earned run. The Wolverines scored the game’s first run after Couilliard’s wild throw put Charlie Suessmith at second base with two out in the second inning. Michael Thorne, Union Grove’s starting pitcher, then followed with a clean single to drive home Suessmith.

Union Grove then went up 3-1 in the fifth thanks in part to an error on Key who had trouble fielding Thorne’s bunt attempt. Will Harrison drove home two runs with a single to give the Wolverines a brief lead.

Key kept his head and pitched through the miscues.

“We’ve got a good offense,” Key said. “I knew we could get the runs to come back. Plus I felt I was pitching good. I was hitting my spots.”

The top four hitters in the Union Grove lineup went 0-for-12 with four strikeouts. Key didn’t walk a batter.