By Brian Paglia
MARIETTA - Luella senior Cody Powell entered the bottom of the seventh inning nearing the 100-pitch mark and he knew he might be done soon. After two consecutive walks, it was clear he was. But that was OK. With a three-run lead, Luella followed the protocol it established throughout its most successful season in school history and brought in Julius Gaines to shut down Lassiter.
Yet, Gaines could not find the strike zone. He issued a walk, then a two-run single, then a sacrifice fly that tied the ballgame. But it was Lassiter catcher and Georgia signee Brandon Stephens' walk-off two-run home run that dealt Luella a shocking 14-12 defeat in Game 1 of the Class AAAAA quarterfinals Tuesday.
Luella (23-10) could not dispute that Lassiter's comeback had an adverse affect on the Lions demeanor and luck going into Game 2. The Lions struggled against the Trojans' Game 2 starter, Ross Ripple, managing just four hits, and several hard hit balls were erased by spectacular defense.
"That's hard to come back from," Luella coach Andy Cooper said. "It was very deflating for us. (Stephens) put a good swing on it. He did what he had to do taking it the other way.
It was hard to come back from."
While Stephens was less successful on the mound - he started Game 1 and couldn't hold an 8-0 lead - he was unstoppable at the plate. He reached base in all nine trips to the plate in the series, collecting seven hits, including two home runs, and five RBIs.
But it was Stephens whom the Lions battered in the top of the third. Gaines singled in J.T. Howard.
Scott launched a three-run home run to centerfield. Pape followed two batters later with a two-run shot. By the end of the inning, Luella had produced more runs than it did combined in its second round series against East Coweta.
Yet, despite a 12-9 lead, Lassiter's lineup did not surrender.
"Game 1 is heartbreaking," Powell said. "We battled back from down 8-0 and you get that close and you get a lead with one out in the bottom of the seventh, it just kind of shocks you. It was a lot to come back from.
"They were a great hitting team.
If we didn't hit with them, then we knew it was going to kind of get away from us."
A seven-run third inning and strong outing by Ripple put Game 2 away swiftly.
The Trojans will play the winner of Mill Creek/Redan on Monday in the semifinals.
The Lions will turn in their jerseys.
But after Game 2 brought its season to an end, Luella exited the field in somewhat a jovial mood, buoyed by its historic season and the great quantity of its roster that will return next year.
"It was a heck of a season," Powell said.
"For the youth of the team, it really overwhelmed me with how hard they fought through the tough times. It was a great season.
"It was the farthest the program's ever been in school history. It was a fun time."