By Rory Sharrock
Solid pitching plus timely hitting equals playoff baseball.
This is the new math formula that's being examined by the student-athletes at Dutchtown High as the Bulldogs swept Jonesboro in the Region 4-AAAA Tournament, winning 6-0 in Game 1 and 6-4 in Game 2 to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in school history.
"This is great. These guys have worked so hard for four years," said Dutchtown head coach Stephen Phillips. "When we started, I told them it's going to take work. It doesn't come for free and you're going to play good teams. We were 1-22 in our first year and a lot of kids could have packed it up and said this isn't worth it. But in the offseason, they dedicated themselves and this is just the start for Dutchtown High School."
While it's not yet determined as to who or where it will play Dutchtown's historic postseason debut takes place Friday, May 9.
Dutchtown flame-throwers Ragan Billings and Mason Mills held Jonesboro's bats in check to secure the road win while their teammates were busy at work posting runs on the board.
In the opener, Billings went the distance and tossed a one-hit shutout to put his squad within one win of the playoffs.
"I want to go to the state championship, so I just wanted to come out here and throw strikes. I wanted to keep the ball low and make them hit ground balls," said Billings.
Dutchtown broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fifth when first baseman Charlie Buck delivered an RBI single to plate Jonathan Richey. Later, center fielder Justin Herring came through with a two-run hit to give the team a 3-0 lead.
The Bulldogs added another run in the six and two more in the seventh when their designated hitter, Kelvin Tanner, smacked a two-run shot over the right field wall.
Following a short break, the teams switched sides with Dutchtown playing as the host club, but there was no change in its performance.
Jonesboro led 2-0 heading into the bottom of the second, but Dutchtown evened things up after Mills drove in two runs with a single up the middle.
The game remained tied during the middle innings with several bizarre events on the base paths.
With two men out in the top of the fourth, Jonesboro posted consecutive hits from Jesse Gardner and Antonio Allen to put runners on the corners with the hopes of adding more damage. However, the courtesy runner for Gardner was caught in a rundown and tagged out at the plate to end the threat.
Later in the fifth, the Cardinals looked poised to score again after Logan Morrison was hit-by-a-pitch. Morrison then stole second and later took third on a throwing error.
Cody Yancey went down on strikes for the first out, but the back-breaker occurred when Mario Cummings failed to convert on a suicide squeeze and popped out. Next, Demetrius Rogers popped up, leaving the go-ahead run stranded at third.
Dutchtown finally took the lead in the top of the sixth when Billings helped his own cause with a lead-off single. Billings was lifted for a courtesy runner, who used his speed to steal second. Afterwards, Richey drew a walk to put men on first and third with no outs. Realizing his golden opportunity, Michael Zerkus looked his gift horse in the mouth and smiled as he drove in the game-winning run.
However, Dutchtown wasn't finished as Herring hit into a fielder's choice to score Richey and Tanner delivered a two-run double to give the Bulldogs a 6-2 advantage.
Jonesboro made it interesting in the top of the seventh when Gardner led off with a single and Allen reached on an error. Morrison came up third and drove in Gardner. On the play, Allen crossed home after an overthrown ball missed the cutoff man to shrink the deficit and sending the tying man to the plate with no outs.
However, Mills regained his composure with a ground out, strike out and pop up to seal the deal.
"We battled. They scored most of their runs with two outs. They came ready to play and this is what happens," said Jonesboro head coach Raju Patel.
"My hat's off to them for making the playoffs for the first time. It's a bad taste in our mouth right now, but if we come ready to work next year we won't be disappointed."