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Special season ends for Cavaliers

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

HAZLEHURST – In a game-three thriller, it was the Jeff Davis Yellow Jackets earning the 1-0 walk-off win over the Callaway Cavaliers to advance to the state-championship series.

With the winning run on third with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Cade Walters beat out an infield single, and Cole Baucom raced home to give Jeff Davis the victory.

It was a game that featured outstanding pitching, brilliant defense, and in the end, one timely hit that kept the season alive for Jeff Davis, which will play Lovett for the Class AA state title on Saturday in Savannah.

Callaway won the series opener 4-0, but it lost game two 3-0 before falling 1-0 in the winner-take-all game three on Tuesday afternoon in Hazlehurst.

“We just didn’t do enough offensively, and that’s kind of been the story of our season,” said Callaway head coach Dusty Hubbard. “We’ve got to try to get better offensively, where we can put some runs across. I thought we pitched and played good enough defense to win the series, we’re just very limited offensively right now.”

It was another memorable season for a program that has thrived under Hubbard’s leadership. The Cavaliers advanced to the state semifinals for the third straight season, although they’re still looking for that breakthrough appearance in the championship series.

Callaway thought its season was over when it lost to Thomasville in the third round, but it ended up advancing to the semifinals because of a forfeit.

“We’re down now, but I’m so proud of them,” Hubbard said. “We were put in a tough situation. We lost a day of practice, but we battled back, and we gave them a hell of a series.”

The Cavaliers stayed in Tuesday’s game thanks in large part to the performance of CJ Stephens, who got the start on the mound and pitched four superb innings.

Stephens, who pitched a scoreless innings in Monday’s game two loss, found out Tuesday morning he was starting, and he responded in impressive fashion.

“I was glad I could come in and keep us in the ballgame as long as I could,” Stephens said.

Justin Moore, the game two starter, pitched the fifth and sixth innings, and he was pulled after giving up a leadoff walk in the bottom of the seventh.

Tucker Starling, who threw a shutout in game one, got a pop-out for the first out of the inning, and a Trenton Clance base hit put men on first and second.

Starling got a strikeout for the second out, and a wild pitch allowed the runners to move up a base, and it was Walters at the plate with men on second and third and two outs.

Walters didn’t hit the ball hard, but the high-hopper to shortstop got the job done, and Baucom raced home to end the suspense and set off a raucous celebration.

Callaway’s three pitchers combined to hold Jeff Davis to five hits, with Stephens giving up just three hits during his four innings on the mound.

Moore and Starling, meanwhile, both gave it their best effort after pitching a lot the previous day.

“I was proud of CJ. He gave a great start,” Hubbard said. “And the other two coming back having thrown 70-something pitches, I was really proud of those guys.”

For Jeff Davis, Duke Stone was the pitching hero.

Stone pitched a seven-inning shutout, and he held Callaway to five hits while striking out seven batters.

Moore, Andrew Locke, Starling, Kaden Rogers and Jimmie Dukes each had hits for Callaway, and Jacob Miles reached on a walk.

The Cavaliers had their chances to break through for a run.

In the fourth inning, Rogers reached on an infield single and made it to second on an error, but he was left stranded when Stone got a strikeout for the third out.

In the fifth inning, Miles walked and Dukes reached on a hard-hit single to left field, putting men on first and second for Stephens, who hammered the ball deep to left field, but the ball was caught a few feet short of the fence.

The Yellow Jackets also had their scoring opportunities before breaking through in the seventh.

Jeff Davis, in fact, had at least one base runner in every inning, but Callaway’s pitchers were up to the challenge, and the defense was superb.

The defensive play of the game for Callaway came in the bottom of the sixth inning.

With the go-ahead run on third, Miles fielded a grounder at third base, and Rogers made a phenomenal scoop at first base on a one-hop throw to keep the game tied.

While the Cavaliers did plenty right in the game, it ultimately wasn’t enough, putting a heart-breaking ending on a special season.

The Cavaliers lose a handful of seniors who were key contributors, but the future appears bright with so many talented players returning, including all three starting pitchers from the playoff series.

“It was a good year,” Stephens said. “Most importantly, we’ll learn a lot from this year and we’ll come back stronger.”