Perry continues in its underdog role in semifinals

PERRY — Sam Kinnis wants to prove the doubters wrong.

The Perry senior pitcher wants to show baseball fans across the state that the Panthers belong in the GHSA Class AAA Final Four. Perry travels to No. 2 Cartersville today for a spot in the championship game. It’s Perry’s first trip to the semifinals since 2003.

“We are probably the underdogs because I don’t think a lot of people think we are going to beat Cartersville,” Kinnis said. “But we’ve been underdogs for a while.”

But Kinnis also can’t blame the doubters. He was one of them. So was teammate and fellow pitcher Perry Kiser.

“I really didn’t think before the season that we’d still be playing in the Final Four,” Kiser said. “But we just kept improving, and we got on a roll.”

Perry (22-9) has made its run to the semifinals thanks to its late-season turnaround and its two left-handed starting pitchers.

The Panthers used a road win at rival Peach County near the end of the regular season to galvanize their playoff hopes. Following that win over the Trojans, who advanced to the quarterfinals, Perry has won nine straight games, including all six state playoff games.

“Everything just seemed to click when we beat Peach County,” Kinnis said. “I think everybody thought we could make a (deep playoff run) then.”

The Peach County win was big — the Trojans won Region 1-AAA — but the Panthers had already started somewhat of a turnaround in the weeks before. Starting with a mid-April extra-inning win over Northside, the Panthers won 14 of 16 games.

During that string, Kinnis and Kiser have been nearly unbeatable as well as nearly identical. Both are finesse lefties focused on hitting their spots rather than blowing batters away.

Kinnis and Kiser have tossed complete games throughout the playoffs. When the opposition has struggled against Kiser, it will likely do the same against Kinnis.

“It has been big for us to be able to throw two lefties,” Perry head coach Shawn Masters said. “Not a lot of teams that see that.”

Statistically speaking, it would be hard to find two pitchers as similar. Both pitchers have eight wins on the season. They are separated by just 0.14 in ERA. Kiser has pitched just 1-1/3 innings more than Kinnis and allowed just two more earned runs. They both have 71 strikeouts.

“We aren’t very different,” said Kiser, who will differ from Kinnis when he drops to a three-quarter arm delivery. “We both try to keep hitters off balance. We aren’t overpowering. We both try to get ahead in the count. Both throw fastball, changeup and curveball. We have good off-speed pitches to make the fastball a little faster.”

The Panthers’ starters have allowed more than four runs in a game just once in the postseason — an 8-6 win over Spalding. They’ve come through in crucial situations, like the one late in the series clincher against Oconee County.

Oconee County got runners on second and third with one out in the top of the seventh inning following an error, said Kinnis, who was on the mound in the middle of the jam.

“I just settled down, didn’t let it get to me, and we got out of it,” said Kinnas, who has thrown all but one of his four complete games in the playoffs. “We’ve really come together as a team and picked each other up. The five seniors have put the team on our backs. We feel a little pressure as seniors, but we know we have to step up. ... I didn’t think we’d ever (get to the Final Four), so we’re going to give it our all.”