RABBITTOWN — East Hall coach Eric Fowler and his Vikings have been here before. In fact, twice already this season against Greater Atlanta Christian and Lumpkin County they have had chances to sweep key Region 7-3A series only to falter in the final game.
After Wednesday’s solid 5-2 win over Dawson County, their second straight over the Tigers, the Vikings will get another chance. Only this time it could put them back into the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
The two teams’ will head to Dawsonville on Friday for the series finale, with East Hall (12-11, 7-7 Region 7-3A) holding a 1-game lead and now the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Tigers (10-14, 6-8).
“We haven’t been able to finish off a series all year, so Friday will be a huge challenge for us,” Fowler said. “But I like the way we’ve played the last couple of games. I feel like we’re getting to where I thought we could be as a team.”
The Vikings got a second consecutive masterpiece on the mound as Trevor Rider, who is just now getting back to 100 percent after recovering from an injury, went the distance, scattering 5 hits and allowing just 2 runs while fanning 4 and walking just 1.
“Trevor finally got into a groove for an entire game,” Fowler said. “He’s getting where we need him to be if we want to make the playoffs.”
Rider set down six straight at one point through the third and 9 of 11 Dawson County batters through the sixth. He retired the final seven to preserve the win.
After a shaky first inning, Dawson County’s Chandler Caine kept the Tigers within distance. Caine surrendered 4 runs on 3 hits in the opening frame but settled down to allow just 2 more hits and 1 run over the final 5 innings.
But Dawson County coach Dwayne Sapp, whose Tigers have also battled injuries in its pitching staff all season, said Wednesday’s game was a microcosm of their season. They have lost four one-run games and three others by three runs or fewer in region play.
Now the Tigers face a true must-win scenario on Friday if they want to advance to a third straight postseason.
“Even if we lose again on Friday we’re still alive but that would mean we’d have to sweep (first place) North Hall, while East Hall has to lose all three to (last place) Union County,” Sapp said. “I think that is a tall order to have happen. To have any real chance we have to win Friday.”
Offense has been the main issue for the Tigers, Sapp said, but the Tigers jumped on Rider in the first inning. Hudson Sapp legged out an infield hit and scored two batters later on a Conner Bearden single after a stolen base and ground out. Rider, however, limited the damage and got out of the inning with a pair of ground outs.
The Vikings answered right back in the bottom of the first as Luke Cooper and Trey Campbell had back-to-back singles. Cooper stole third and scored on a balk by Caine. Trevor Rider reached on a wild pitch of a third strike and Tripp Rider was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs. Mike Matuska then drove in two runs on a single to left through a drawn-in infield. Caine recovered to strike out Matt Lacey and TJ Smith, but Tripp Rider scored on a wild pitch for a 4-1 lead.
The Tigers got a run back in the second on a RBI single from Palmer Sapp, scoring brother Hudson Sapp, but they also left a pair of runners stranded at second and third. The Tigers did not threaten again, getting just two base runners over the final 4 innings.
Meanwhile, Caine settled down for the Tigers, retiring 12 of the next 14 through the fourth. But East Hall plated a big insurance run in the fifth as Trevor Rider doubled to center to lead off, and then scored on a pairof wild pitches to push the lead to 5-2.
Expect both coaches to pull out all the stops on Friday.
“We’re a young team and we’re just trying to stay competitive,” Sapp said. “They know the season is probably on the line so we’ll do everything we can to get a win.”
“(Dawsonville) is a tough place to play but we have a chance to put ourselves in the driver’s seat so to speak,” Fowler said. “We’ll do whatever we have to to try and steal another win up there.”
East Hall took Game 1 of the series, 2-1, on Monday in Dawsonville.