Familiar territory for Cavaliers

Published 11:39 pm Friday, May 10, 2019


Daily News

They’re back.

A year ago, the Callaway Cavaliers made it to the Class AA state semifinals before losing a hard-fought series to Benedictine.

Flash forward a year and Callaway has returned to the semifinals, and this time its opponent will be the Rockmart Yellow Jackets.

If Callaway can get the road win over Rockmart, it will advance to the state-championship series for the first time in program history.

While Callaway swept Bacon County in its quarterfinal series, Rockmart needed three games to beat Harlem.

In Thursday’s rain-delayed game three that finished close to midnight, Rockmart outlasted Harlem 8-5 to earn its semifinal berth.

Rockmart will host a doubleheader on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., and if needed, a third and deciding game will be played on Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Many of the same players who helped Callaway reach the semifinals last season are a big part of this year’s team as well, and head coach Dusty Hubbard said “they’re going to fight you until the end. That’s the thing I’ll say about them. And it may not always result in a win. It may not. But we’re going to give it everything we’ve got. I’m just really proud of them.”

Callaway was one win away from reaching the championship series last season.

After taking the opening game of the semifinal series against Benedictine, Callaway lost the next two games.

Benedictine went on to beat Berrien County to win the state championship.

“Going to the final four last year and losing, I wanted to come back so bad,” said senior second baseman Bryce Kurian. “I knew we could do it. We’ve got the people.”

Junior Jabari Smith, who was a key part of last season’s team, said what the Cavaliers do on the field is a reflection of the values that are instilled during practice.

“We’re taught and coached to play as hard as we can,” Smith said. “We just do our job, do what we’re supposed to do, and believe. We believe in each other, and we believe in the coaches.”

That mindset served Callaway well during Wednesday’s thrilling quarterfinal series against Bacon County.

After rallying from a two-run deficit in the first game to win 9-8, freshman Justin Moore pitched a complete game as Callaway won game two 6-4.

“The games we played were unreal,” said senior outfielder and pitcher Walt Stewart. “It showed everybody working together as a family.”

Callaway has swept Banks County, Model and Bacon County to reach this point, while Rockmart has had to win two game threes to make it to the semifinals.

After sweeping Washington in round one, Rockmart’s next two playoff matchups against Elbert County and Harlem went the full three games.

Thursday’s game three against Harlem was delayed because of rain, and it was Rockmart finally prevailing 8-5 as midnight approached.

While Callaway hasn’t yet faced a game three, the journey to the semifinals has hardly been an easy one.

Callaway won its playoff opener 11-1 over Banks County, but the next five games were all competitive.

Callaway finished off Banks County with an 8-6 win in game two, and it beat Model 1-0 and 4-1.

That set up Wednesday’s quarterfinal showdown with Bacon County, and they played two thrillers. Bacon County seemed to have the upper-hand after scoring five runs in the sixth inning to take an 8-6 lead, but Callaway came off the deck and scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to win it.

Two runs scored when Jabari Smith reached on an error, and Braelin Mitchell came home with the winning run on a wild pitch.

Wes Marchman had three of the Cavaliers’ nine hits, and catcher Luke Swann came up big with a hit and three RBIs.

Mitchell had two hits and an RBI, Trent Sheppard had a hit and an RBI, Smith drove in two runs, leadoff hitter Drake Wade had a hit and a walk, and Stewart had a hit and a run scored.

Dawson Wright was Callaway’s starting pitcher, and he wasn’t at his best, giving up six hits and three runs in 3 2/3 innings.

Austin Barber, one of the pitching standouts during last year’s playoff run, stepped in and settled things down with 1 2/3 solid innings.

After Tucker Starling got one out, Stewart was sent to the mound, and he surrendered the go-ahead grand slam.

Stewart shrugged that off and got out of the sixth inning with no more runs scoring, and he threw a scoreless seventh inning.

In game two, the Cavaliers urged to a 6-1 lead after scoring three runs in the top of the sixth, and they had to hang on for the 6-4 win. Moore pitched his second straight complete game in the playoffs, and the Cavaliers made the most of their four hits to score six runs.

Wade, in his usual leadoff spot, had two hits, a walk, an RBI and two runs scored, Kurian had an RBI double and a walk, and Marchman had a hit and an RBI.

Mitchell and Swann each walked twice, and Brooks Bledsoe walked and scored a run.

The Cavaliers faced plenty of adversity during the back-and-forth series, but they found a way.

“We’re a hard-working team,” Sheppard said. “We never give up. Most of these players were in the final four last year, so this is nothing for us. We were ready for it.”


WHAT: Semifinals of Class AA state playoffs

WHERE: Rockmart

WHEN: Tuesday, 4:30 p.m. (doubleheader); Wednesday, 5 p.m. (if needed)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Callaway (24-12) finished second in Region 5-AA and beat Banks County, Model and Bacon County in the state playoffs; Rockmart (26-8) finished first in Region 7-AA and beat Washington, Elbert County and Harlem in the state playoffs