COMMERCE — The last time the Commerce baseball team made the semifinals, Georgia was preparing for the 1996 Summer Olympics.
The Tigers will have to wait one more day to see if they can reach that milestone again after a split with Emanuel County Institute on Tuesday in the two teams’ Class A Public quarterfinal series at Gordon Field.
The Bulldogs won the opener 4-2, taking advantage of four Commerce errors. The Tigers answered with a 17-10 win in Game 2 to send the series to a deciding Game 3 on Wednesday.
First pitch for Game 3 is set for 2 p.m. at Gordon Field.
The Tigers (25-12) had to fight back from 2-1 and 9-6 deficits in the second game to even the series. Landon Bunn and Ryan Cooper combined for four hits and six RBI, including each belting a home run, in the second game.
Despite allowing three runs, Commerce reliever Hudson Thomeson eventually shut the door on the Bulldogs, retiring 13 of 16 batters while the Tigers rallied for the win.
Commerce head coach Steve Cotrell couldn’t say enough about his group’s resolve.
“Hudson gave us some great innings there and these guys really battled,” Cotrell said. “I was proud of how they came back. They've been doing that all year. But we also have got to start paying attention a little more to the little things if we want to move on and keep playing.”
The Tigers are in their third consecutive quarterfinals and hoping that the third time indeed is the charm.
“We haven’t really talked about that as a group but it’s time for us to get over that hump. Hopefully we can (on Wednesday),” Cotrell said.
The winner gets defending state champion Metter in the semifinals. Metter swept Gordon Lee 5-2 and 10-1 on Tuesday to advance to the semifinals.
Game 1: ECI 4, Commerce 2
ECI (19-11) jumped on the Tigers early when Lawson Mercer blasted a two-run home run deep to left-center in the first inning. And Mercer dominated the Commerce lineup through the first three innings giving up just one walk.
Commerce finally threatened in the fourth as Cooper reached on an error to open the frame. But he was erased on a double play on the next batter. Junior catcher Coleson Smith then got the Tigers’ first hit and Brayton Purcell followed with a double. But Bunn flew out to deep right to strand the runners.
Commerce threatened again in the fifth getting runners at first and third with one out. But they hit into another double play as the Bulldogs got out of the jam.
Meanwhile, Commerce starter Jaxon Foster settled down after the home run allowing just two more hits through the fifth, retiring eight straight at one point.
The Tigers finally broke through in the sixth. Cooper led off with a single and Smith followed with a one-out hit to center. That prompted the Bulldogs to go to the bullpen.
Purcell greeted Bryce Kearson with an RBI single and Smith came around to score on the play when no one covered home to tie the score at 2.
The Bulldogs ended Foster’s streak when Hudson Henry reached on an infield single and Jacob Durden reached on an error to open the seventh. Joseph Stewart gave ECI a 3-2 lead with a one-out single to center, scoring Henry. They made it 4-2 on a Commerce error.
After Purcell’s single in the sixth, Kearson retired the final five Commerce batters to get the win.
Game 2: Commerce 17, ECI 10
Commerce scored in all but one inning, and despite a quick start, had to battle from behind twice to even the series.
Cayden Lord reached on an error to open the game, stole second, and moved to third on a groundout. He scored on a RBI groundout from Hampton Hutto for a 1-0 lead.
But the Bulldogs answered in the bottom of the inning off Lord. Kearson singled, moved to second on a passed ball, advanced to third on a bloop single from Gabe Lee, and scored on a single by Jack Walden to tie the game. They took a 2-1 lead on another Commerce error.
Commerce came right back loading the bases with one out. After having one runner forced out at home, the Tigers plated two on a throwing error and Cooper then doubled in a run for a 4-2 lead.
In the bottom of the second, ECI got a RBI hit from Aden McQuaig to pull within 4-3. Kade Morgan replaced Lord in bottom of second and hit Walden to load the bases. But he got Mercer to ground out to end the threat with the Tigers still leading.
Bunn extended the lead to 6-3 with a three-run homer in the third.
But Morgan ran into trouble in the bottom of the third, loading the bases with one out. Cotrell then called on Hudson Thomeson. ECI eventually took a 9-6 lead on two errors and two walks with the bases loaded. Mercer drove in a run on a RBI single and Henry knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly.
Commerce continued the wild offensive showcase scoring a run on a wild pitch, a RBI hit from Smith, a hit batter, a walk to Coy Argo, and a sacrifice fly from Cohen Thomeson to reclaim the lead, 11-9. Cooper blasted a two-run home run to help push the Tigers’ lead to 14-9 in the fifth.
Cohen Thomeson added a two-run RBI single in the seventh as they extended the lead again to 17-9.
Hudson Thomeson, the third pitcher for the Tigers, settled things down after the third. He set down the Bulldogs in order in the bottom of the fourth and worked around a lead off double in the fifth. He went on to retire 13 of the final 16 batters he faced, allowing just a seventh-inning home run to Kearson. He struck out five.