MT. AIRY — Gage Felton is a name most of the current Habersham Central baseball players are more than familiar with.
The then-junior hurler won a pair of games in their three-game Region 8-6A series to end the 2018 regular season to keep the Raiders out of the playoffs.
So excuse them if they felt like they had some unfinished business Monday when the two teams met to open a crucial three-game series in at Raider Park.
The Raiders pummeled Felton, who got the series-opening start for the Falcons, right from the start as the first three Habersham batters all reached, capped by a three-run home run from Peyton Irvin en route to a 12-2, six-inning victory.
The opening barrage was part of a 15-hit attack as eight different players had hits, including six combined from Irvin (2-for-3, 4 RBI) and Alex McFarlane (4-for-4, 3 RBI). Logan Hare added three hits and a pair of RBI, Sutton Dover had two hits, and Colby Jones, Hogan Pitts, Jess Wilbanks, and Ryte Woodruff all had one hit apiece.
However, the game ended with a Michael Perez wild pitch scoring Christian King to invoke the run rule.
The day of retribution had Raiders coach Chris Akridge all smiles afterward.
“Felton is a really good pitcher. But he beat us twice in a week last year to knock us out and the guys kind of remembered that,” he said. “We really came out focused and swung the bats well. Peyton’s home run really set the tone and gave us a lot of momentum early.”
While Irvin provided the early offensive punch, McFarlane was busy holding down the Falcons offense. The senior University of Miami-signee fanned four batters the first time through the order and eventually went 5 2/3 innings scattering three hits, walking five, striking out eight, and allowing just one earned run.
Dacula did not have a hit after the third inning and one run scored on a double-steal and another on a sacrifice fly.
“Alex did an outstanding job on the mound,” Akridge said. “He walked a few more than he usually does but we did a good job behind him.”
McFarlane worked around a two-out infield single in the first and then got things started quickly for the Raiders in their half of the inning against Felton. McFarlane singled to right and moved to second on a perfect bunt hit by Jones. Irvin then belted his three-run home run to left for a 3-0 lead.
After McFarlane struck out the side in the top of the inning, the Raiders picked up where they left off in the second. Dover singled to lead off and was sacrificed to second and scored on McFarlane’s RBI single to center. McFarlane took second on the throw home, moved to third on Jones’s ground out to first, and scored on Irvin’s fourth RBI in the first two innings for a 5-0 lead.
Dacula got a run back in the third and brought in reliever Sam Floyd to start the bottom of the third. He retired the first three batters he faced but ran into trouble in the fourth and fifth giving up four runs on a pair of RBI hits by McFarlane and a two-run double from Wilbanks.
Hare helped put the game out of reach with a two-run double in the sixth.
Now, the series will move to Dacula on Wednesday. The second-place Raiders (17-5, 5-2 Region 8-6A) have a chance to win their third consecutive region series, something they have not done since 2006. Dacula (7-13, 2-5 Region 8-6A) will be looking to just try and stay in the playoff race. They will return to Raider Park on Friday.
Habersham Central, however, is 9-1 on the road so far in 2019.
“That is really going to be a huge game for both teams,” Akridge said. “Our goal is just to try and win each series. We have a chance to do that on Wednesday and Friday. I feel like we’re really starting to play with confidence.”