HCHS baseball takes walk-off win vs. Lanier, earns 3rd region series win

Habersham Central High School sophomore outfielder Kreed Barrett emphatically steps on home plate in front of Lanier High School's catcher after the Longhorns walked in the game-winning run Friday at Raider Park in Mt. Airy. (Zack Myers/NowHabersham.com)

Habersham Central High School’s varsity baseball squad is back on track with a pair of victories over Lanier High School this week, the latest of which came Friday night at Raider park in a walk-off, 6-5, affair.

Down 5-4 heading into the seventh and final frame, the Raiders (15-4, 7-3 Region 8-AAAAAA) had scored a run in each of the last three innings on offense and held the Longhorns (8-13, 4-6) scoreless in the tops of the sixth and seventh innings to bring the game within one.

With losses in three of the last four games, HCHS was looking at potentially dropping another. Then, with the sounds of a raucous dugout, the Raiders found their composure.

“Baseball is a game of ups and downs,” HCHS Head Coach Chris Akridge said. “What we’ve been stressing to our guys is that we have to keep our composure.”

After the recent skid – which included a 2-0 loss to Jackson County and back-to-back losses to North Forsyth to the tune of 5-0 and 14-2 – Akridge said they “challenged” the team to “keep our composure, keep our poise, and win one day at a time.”

That challenge showed itself fruitful with an 11-1 win over Lanier in Suwanee on Wednesday. Friday night the poise was evident in the final inning.

Junior designated hitter Callum Spivey (1-for-2, run scored, walk) was hit by a pitch. A pinch runner came on in his place at first base and was quickly moved to second on a passed ball.

Sophomore second baseman Hudson Gailey (2-for-4, 2 runs batted in [RBI]) laid down a bunt single to put runners at the corner and move the game-tying run 90 feet from home.

A groundout to third put both runners in scoring position with Gailey moving to second on the fielder’s choice.

Sophomore outfielder Kreed Barrett (3-for-4, 2 RBI, 1 run scored) stepped to the plate to deliver his third hit of the game, plating one of his two RBIs and moving Gailey to third.

“Just a huge hit from Kreed,” Akridge said. “Kreed went through a stretch where he was struggling to barrel it up at the plate. He has worked so hard, just tirelessly, going to hit at 6 a.m. on school days after game nights. People don’t see those things.

“Then, these last two games, he’s been huge for us,” he continued.

After Barrett stole second base, the Longhorns, in an attempt to set up the double play, decided to intentionally walk sophomore outfielder Maverick Chitwood (1-for-4), loading the bases.

Next up, senior shortstop Hayden Gailey (2-for-4, walk) hit a ground ball to the left side. The third baseman fielded the ball and got the force out at the plate, saving the run, but leaving the bases loaded.

With two outs, senior first baseman Konner Burrell (0-for-4, RBI, walk) fought his way into a 3-2, full count. Ultimately, Lanier decided to throw Burrell a curveball with the winning run 90 feet away.

The ball was out of the strike zone, bringing Barrett to the plate as the winning run for the Raiders.

“(Burrell) showed great composure,” Akridge said. “For them, you have bases loaded, full count, two outs, winning run on third and they threw him a curveball. That’s a tremendous amount of respect. I think he’s one of the best hitters in our region. That right there shows the amount of respect they have for him. For him to have the discipline and maturity to lay off that pitch was very impressive.”

HCHS has somewhat adopted a new mantra in the last few weeks. Not one that’s been preached to them, but one of a trickle-down nature from an assistant coach on staff.

About a week ago, according to Akridge, something bad happened in a game and Klein’s response was simple: so what?

Throughout the dugout – and from Klein himself – when something bad happened, like a pitcher walking a batter or a player striking out, the two words were shouted in their direction. Though it’s only two words, the meaning is much bigger.

“I love that mindset,” Akridge said. “I think our guys have picked up on that and grabbed onto that. When we encounter adversity, ‘So what? Let’s win the next pitch. There’s nothing we can do about it after it’s already happened.’”

The Longhorns hit a solo home run in the second inning and a two-out, three-run shot in the third? So what? The Raiders are down to their final three outs to at least score a run to tie, if not two to win? So what?

“I heard a few guys saying it too. I said it a few times myself,” Akridge said. “That does summarize the mindset we want our guys to have when we encounter adversity is, ‘OK, something bad happened. So what? Let’s deal with it instead of pouting about it and letting it get us down.’”

The Raiders answered that solo home run in the second inning with a run themselves.

Junior catcher Spencer Frady (3-for-3, RBI) hit a single to center field. Pinch runner junior Dalan James (2 runs scored) came in and moved to second on a passed ball. After a walk to Spivey, Hudson Gailey singled to left and an error on the left fielder allowed James to make it to the plate.

The three-run homer in the third for the Longhorns created what Akridge refers to as a big inning. His definition of a big inning is anything over two runs scored.

“They put up the big inning. Really their runs were just the two swings for them – the two home runs,” Akridge said. “But we kept chipping away and, really, our goal is to win the inning. Looking at the scoreboard, we won three of those innings. They won one inning, we matched them in two innings and we won three innings. That’s a recipe for a win.”

The Raiders won the fourth and sixth with one run in each inning, then the seventh with the game-winning, two-run frame. The two teams tied the second and fifth with one-run each.

Senior Kade Nicholson started on the mound for the HCHS, facing 19 batters over his four innings pitched. He allowed five hits and five earned runs, while walking two and striking out four.

Senior Kaleb Chastain tossed the final three innings in relief, allowing three hits and zero runs. He walked one and struck out a pair to earn the win down the stretch.

The victory over the Longhorns means a third region series win for HCHS. It also secures tie-breakers over Lanier, Gainesville and Shiloh.

Next up, the Raiders will face region No. 2 Apalachee High School on the road Monday at 5:55 p.m. Then, the Wildcats will come to Raider Park on Wednesday, also with a 5:55 p.m. start time.

After that, the Raiders will cycle through each region team one last time beginning with Gainesville on the road on April 5.

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