By Jeffery Armstrong
The McDonough Phillies advanced to the Final Four of the AABC 7-8 Roberto Clemente World Series Friday night, but it wasn't easy.
The Phillies blew a 14-2 third-inning lead against the McDonough Nitro, but they managed to regroup and eliminate their county rivals 23-12 in a game that was called after four innings due to the eight-run mercy rule. The Phillies will play today at either 10 a.m. or noon; if they win, they advance to the Series title game at 6 p.m. If they lose early, their season is over.
"In my opinion, this is the greatest group of kids that's been on a ball field," said Phillies head coach Alan East. "They never hang their heads low and they fight till the very end."
And this game was a fight for all four innings. After one full inning, the Phillies led 4-2 but then exploded for 10 runs over the second and third innings for their 14-2 lead. John Shoemaker of the Phillies had four RBIs in those two innings, with the big blow coming on his three-run home run in the third.
The Nitro showed tremendous heart, staging a rally in the bottom of third. The team scored seven runs before getting an out and added three more runs to make the score 14-12. Nitro starting pitcher B.J. Armstead hit two singles in the inning, which plated three of his Nitro teammates. The Phillies also helped the Nitro have a big third inning, committing four of their five total errors at that time.
But whatever momentum the Nitro had from their big third was lost immediately as the Phillies erupted for nine runs in the fourth to seal the game at 23-12.
"This team showed a lot of heart to come back after being down 14-2. The whole coaching staff appreciates all that these guys have done this season," said Nitro head coach Doug Smith. "I hate that we had to fight it out between each other, but that's the way the brackets fell. You hate to lose, but at least we lost to a class team. Now we've got to go out and support them."
The Phillies belted 14 hits in the game; five of them were homers. Shoemaker smashed two big flies on the way to a 3-for-3 night with six RBIs, four runs scored and two walks. Other Phillies who hit home runs were Bryson Durden (2-for-3, three runs, two RBIs), Andy Burnett (1-for-1, three runs, three RBIs, three walks) and Kelvin Wimbish (3-for-3, two runs, four RBIs).
"It's natural for this team to hit home runs. We hit 65 in the regular season," East said. "We took private hitting lessons this year and they paid off for us."
Armstead went 3-for-3 with a run and four RBIs, Bradley Dewberry smacked a solo homer and Andrew Young scored three runs for the Nitro.