VALDOSTA — Behind junior outfielder Drew Burress’ three-home run strength, the Houston County Bears (14-4, 1-0 Region 1-6A) outscored the Valdosta Wildcats (14-4, 3-1) 14- 6 Tuesday night.
Valdosta head coach Brad Porter was ejected after the first inning after discussing a tight first base call. With Porter banned from the locker room, the ‘Cats fell into a hole they couldn’t quite get out of.
Porter’s ejection left many of the fans in attendance in a bad mood most of the night. Their dissatisfaction with the refereeing team reached its climax at the end of the seventh.
Trailing 14-6 and looking to further cut the Bears’ lead, senior Eli Batts came on the plate for Valdosta with Cole Porter on base with one out.
Batts fired a fly ball into deep left field as Bears left fielder Elijah Smith extended to take a dive. It appeared that Smith was unable to catch and after a slight delay in live action, Smith shot to second base and Porter was tagged in a preview.
A chorus of boos rang out as Valdosta assistant coach Jonathan Oliver came out to vehemently protest the call-up. After several moments of contentious dialogue, the game was ruled a dud and the ensuing double play ended the match.
Burress shone for the Bears, going 4-for-5 with three homers, a double and eight RBIs. Gage Harrelson also went 4-for-5 with four runs scored in the game. Andrew Dunford, Hunter Chiapetta and Blaydn Alaniz each had two hits in the win, with Alaniz adding three RBIs on the night.
As a team, the Bears finished with 17 hits for their first regional win of the season.
A two-point shot from Burress gave the Bears a 4-1 lead in the top of the third inning. The lead quickly swelled in the top of the fourth as Alaniz got a two-run RBI single, followed by a hit from Harrelson to put up two men with one out.
Burress came to the plate and tattooed a three-point blast out of Bazemore Field to make it 9-1 in favor of the visitors.
The ‘Cats found a fleeting spark in the bottom of the fourth as Max Newbern walked, senior receiver Nyk Emerson made contact on a helicopter in the infield and beat the pitch to first base and Jordan Caraway put a run on the board with a double to make it 9-2. The ‘Cats nearly had a second run on the board, but pinch runner Sam Houston fell after rounding third and was ejected on the play. An Isaiah Haygood fly out ended the ‘Cats’ inning in the next at-bat.
The Bears continued to build the lead in the top of the fifth as Eli Stephens and Chiapetta started with back-to-back hits before third baseman Kai Decker delivered an RBI single to make it 10-2.
After Valdosta starter JD Smith knocked out Elijah Smith for the first on the fifth, Alaniz found an RBI single on a 3-2 count to give the Bears an 11-2 lead on their 12th hit of the night.
The RBI sounded the death knell for Smith, who had a disastrous night on the mound for Valdosta. Georgia State’s commitment lasted 4 1/3 innings and allowed 13 hits, two home runs, 11 earned runs and a walk with four strikeouts on the night.
Houston came in to throw in relief and quickly forced Harrelson out and Burress out to finish the top half of the inning.
Desperate for some semblance of momentum at home plate, Valdosta began to shake things up in the bottom of the fifth.
Cohen Smith started off with a single down the middle. Two batters later, JD Smith had his own hit before Cole Porter was the first hit on an RBI to make it 11-3.
Batts hit to left field for Valdosta’s eighth hit of the night before Newbern walked two out to load the bases.
Emerson delivered a clutch and punt brace to bring the ‘Cats within 11-6 reach of the Bears.
Emerson’s big hit led to a pitching change as starter Ryker Chavis was pulled in favor of second-year reliever Landon Tankersley.
Chavis went 4 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and five earned runs with five strikeouts and two walks. Tankersley walked three on three innings in 2 1/3 innings.
Although the ‘Cats could have threatened another potential run as pinch runner EJ Miley stole third, Caraway pulled out the catch looking to end the inning.
Aside from two goals in the top of the sixth, the Bears did no damage. The ‘Cats returned the favor with a ground out from Haygood and strikeouts from Cohen Smith and third baseman DD Donaldson in the bottom half of the sixth.
With the ‘Cats showing signs of life after the fifth inning, the Bears had a chance to split up in the top of the seventh.
And they did just that.
After Elijah Smith and Alaniz landed on strikes, it looked like the ‘Cats would give themselves a chance to close, but Harrelson singled to set up a two-point shot from Burress to carry the score at 13-6. A Dunford hit paved the way for an RBI single from Garrett Hortman for the final margin.
Emerson led the way for Valdosta, going 3 for 3 with three RBIs. Caraway went 1 for 3 with a brace while Porter and Newbern scored two runs apiece in the loss.
The ‘Cats travel to Warner Robins on Friday to face the Bears in a region doubleheader. Following his ejection on Tuesday, head coach Brad Porter will not be available to coach in the doubleheader. The first pitch is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
Shane Thomas is the sports editor of the Valdosta Daily Times.