The Upson-Lee Knights (12-8, 15-11) were playing their best baseball of the season, unfortunately after their 8-5 victory over Spalding (14-6, 15-9), the Knights season came to an end. Upson-Lee did what they needed to do by defeating the Jags to keep their playoff hopes alive, but neither North Clayton nor Eagle’s Landing could give the Knights any help by defeating Woodland.
The Knights and Woodland ended the season with the same record in Region 4 play, but after the two teams split during the regular season, Woodland held a +4 run advantage, giving them the final and fourth playoff spot in the region. The Knights would be headed to Warner Robins to take on the Warhawks from Veterans High School in the first round of the GHSA State Playoffs, but North Clayton lost to Woodland by a 12-0 score, and Eagle’s Landing lost to Woodland by a 23-6 score.
‘We knew the situation we were in, and we handled it as best as we possibly could,” said Knights head coach Wayne Puckett. “We can’t go back and change the past. The only hope we had was to win four games this week and have Woodland lose to North Clayton or Eagle’s Landing. We played extremely well this week and won four games, two of them against teams which beat us earlier in the season and another on the road against a playoff team. I’m so proud of the guys for battling this week. They could have laid down, but they came out and played hard and won the games they needed to win. I think this season was a big step in the right direction for our program, and these seniors have shown our younger players what it takes to lead a team. I am very excited about the future of Upson-Lee baseball.”
The Diamond Knights ended the season on a five-game winning streak, their longest of the season. Next season Upson-Lee will return most of their starters from this season. UL will need to replace Matt Crews at third base, Chris Duncan’s bat as a DH, and Brandon Blount in the outfield. Justin Shaw is the only senior pitcher in the Knights rotation which pitched over 20 innings this season. With much of their pitching staff and their line-up returning next season, and some very talented players coming up next season from the Knights junior varsity team, it’s easy to see why Coach Puckett is excited about his team in 2015.
On Thursday Upson-Lee took on the Spalding Jaguars, the No. 3 seed in the Region 4 standings. The Knights batted around in the line-up and scored all eight of their runs in the top of the third inning, while Spalding scored all five of their runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
With one out in the top of the third inning, Kalen Puckett singled to right field, followed by a single from Kyle Kelly on a line drive to left field. Matt Crews followed with one of his two hits in the game to load the bases, then Chris Duncan roped a line drive up the middle for a RBI single, scoring Puckett from third base and giving Upson-Lee a 1-0 lead.
With the bases still loaded and now two outs in the inning, Zack Gooden drew a walk on a nine-pitch at bat, scoring Kelly and giving UL a 2-0 lead. Levi Long followed Gooden with a single to to left field, scoring Crews and giving Upson-Lee a 3-0 lead. On the very next pitch, the Jags pitcher threw the ball to the backstop, and Chris Duncan came home to score on the wild pitch and give Upson-Lee a 4-0 lead.
With two outs and runners at second and third base, Elijah Hill earned a walk to load the bases once again with Justin Shaw stepping up to the plate. Shaw hit a ground ball back to the Jags pitcher, but he threw the ball away, scoring Zack Gooden and Levi Long, giving Upson-Lee a 6-0 lead. With Puckett batting for the second time in the inning, Spalding threw another wild pitch, scoring Hill, followed by a RBI double over the right fielder’s head by Puckett, scoring Shaw and giving Upson-Lee an 8-0 lead.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Spalding scored five runs with help from the Knights. Upson-Lee committed four errors in the innings, allowed two walks and two hits, as the Jaguars cut the Knights lead to 8-5.
The Knights kept the Jags scoreless over the last two innings, and earned the 8-5 victory. The win improved the Knights Region 4 record to 12-8, and their overall record to 15-11.
Kalen Puckett led the Knights with two hits, a RBI, and a run scored, while also pitching seven innings, allowing just four hits, striking out five batters, and allowing five unearned runs. Matt Crews tallied two hits and a run scored in the victory, while Chris Duncan, Levi Long, and Zack Gooden each tallied a hit and RBI. Kyle Kelly added a hit and run scored in the victory.
Wes McCard can be contacted at (706) 647-5414 or on Twitter @WesMc21.