SPORTS RECAP: Perry scores six in 7th inning comeback to stun WL

The Courier Herald – March 10, 2021

    PERRY – West Laurens and Perry cranked the drama, angst, suspense and electricity up to full blast as the two top 10-ranked teams met in the first of their two-game series Wednesday night. And the high-stakes showdown of region 4-AAAA undefeateds, with a ballpark full of fans riding on each pitch, lived up to every shred of the hype. 
   The Panthers, in a comeback equal parts its own improbable rally and astonishing West Laurens collapse, scored eight unanswered runs in the final two innings to steal a 10-9 win, and take sole possession of first place in the region standings.  
   Tyler Newhouse punched a first pitch to right field to drive in Tristan Freis for the winning run on a walk-off base hit with two outs in the bottom half of the seventh. The knock was one of five in the frame, to go along with three costly Raider errors, that helped Perry erase a five-run deficit with six last-chance runs.
   The game-winning at-bat, for Newhouse, was a second of the inning that saw 10 at-bats for the Panthers, after the junior reached base to lead off when a bobbled exchange on a would-be groundout to third base cost Matthew Mebane a split-second on an otherwise perfect throw to first. 
   Perry, sensing a lapse in confidence, jumped all over some early pitches for back-to-back hits that followed, on a Carson Bryant single and a two-RBI base hit by Dylan Butler, cutting its deficit to three. West Laurens pitcher Eli Floyd bounced back for a swinging strikeout of Christian Fletcher for his first out, before an RBI single by Brayden Long made it a two-run game. 
   Floyd rung Ethan Bearden up looking for the second out, and got Tanner Knowles swinging for what might have been the third. But his filthy slider into the dirt spun away from catcher Janson Meeks as the Georga commit ran it out with no play to first, extending the game. 
   Tristan Freis drew a walk, and then a throwing error on an attempted steal that brought in Long for the eighth Perry run, and set the table for the pivotal sequence. The Panthers tied the game at 9-9 on Knowles' run when Lane Rucker beat out a bang-bang play at first to plate Freis, and stay alive. The senior sent a high chopper over the middle that Colton Scott, from second, reached with a backhand grab. His off-balance throw to first was perfectly placed, but a millisecond late, according to the judgment of the infield umpire.  
   The stunning collapse followed two big innings in the West Laurens fifth and sixth that helped the Raiders build a commanding 9-2 lead. They left a few additional runs on the table that didn't seem consequential at the time, but ultimately would have come in handy. 
   West, which never trailed in the contest, broke a 2-2 tie with three runs in the fifth, chasing Perry starter Carson Bryant from the ballgame on a string of three consecutive hits, the latter two for RBIs on Mebane's single and a Tyler Franks triple. 
   Estep kept the hit parade going, registering another run batted-in on a double against new pitcher Ben McDow, but a heads-up fielder's choice play on a grounder by Knowles at short wound up cutting down Gunnar Jeffers as the lead runner at third. That would cost West Laurens an additional run on a subsequent single before two pop-outs, the first caught to get Jace Thompson on a run-saving dive in left by Fletcher, to end the inning. 
   West Laurens piled on for four more in the sixth, with an RBI by Mebane and two for Estep to score the initial runs, a fourth getting in on a Perry error. 
   Two hits and a West Laurens throwing error led to the two Perry runs in the sixth that made the score 9-4 going to the last inning. 
   Mebane, who was four of five for the day, had a hand in both early Raider runs, reaching on a two-out single in the first to score on Franks' RBI double to left-center. Mebane drilled a two-out pitch a ways over the center field fence in the third for a solo home run to give the Raiders a 2-1 lead. Perry's runs came in the bottom halves of innings 1 and 4. 
   Both teams got runners aboard in every inning. West Laurens had 13 hits and enjoyed four free passes and two errors. Perry had the benefit of 11 hits, four errors and six walks. 
   Scott, the West Laurens starter, pitched a superb five and one thirds innings, with four hits, two earned runs, five walks and three strikeouts. Floyd gave up only five earned runs, of eight total, in two and two thirds innings of work. He surrendered seven hits, walked only one, and struck out three. 
   Perry's Cooper Edwards – in just one inning – struck out two to deny the Raiders any insurance scoring off a walk in the top of the seventh, and wound up with the backdoor win. 
   The loss will be a tough one to chew on as the Raiders complete their spring break with a handful of days off, before two busy weeks of ball to finish the regular season. 
   Perry returns the home-and-home series in Dexter April 23. West Laurens (14-3, 6-1 region 4-AAAA) will next host Howard Monday in a 5:30 p.m. first pitch.