Here we go again.
For the third consecutive round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs, the Carrollton High School baseball team is facing a do-or-die Game 3.
In a battle of No. 1 seeds, the Trojans rebounded from a 6-4 Game 1 setback to Starr's Mill by sweating out a 6-4 nail-biter in the nightcap on Wednesday to force today's rubber game back at Cole Field. First pitch is slated for 7 p.m.
The Trojans (29-9) received a bulldog effort from Jared Soliz on the mound in Game 2, as the senior right-hander tossed 6.2 innings before running into trouble in the bottom of the seventh.
With Starr's Mill (24-10) down to its last strike, Soliz fired a pair of pitches over the plate that the home crowd thought were game-enders, but the home-plate umpire didn't see it that way.
That kept the at-bat alive for Hunter Lawson, who roped a two-run homer over the left-field fence to pull within 6-3. A triple by Brian Port and RBI double from Charlie Mizzell in the next two at-bats brought the tying run to the plate, prompting a pitching change.
Chris Gaiter was summoned from first base and after a walk to the first batter he faced, recorded the final out by getting a called third strike on Nathan Price with runners on first and second.
Even though he wasn't able to finish the game, Trojan head coach Ryan Zaideman was proud of the performance from Soliz, who was lights-out for the better part of the evening.
"He's clutch in pressure situations and came out and threw the ball very well," Zaideman said. "He kept guys off-balance and he's just a warrior all night. Our defense played really well behind him."
Soliz had allowed just one run on five hits with two walks and nine strikeouts before the seventh-inning jam, highlighted by wiggling out of a situation in the bottom of the fourth where the Panthers had runners on second and third with no outs and he struck out the next three batters to keep Carrollton up 2-1 at the time.
Another big moment in Game 2 came in the top of the seventh in what seemed to be the icing on the cake of the victory at the time when senior designated hitter Andy Smith ripped a two-run triple to plate Brandon Prince and Charlie Lanier, but those two runs proved quite critical in the bottom half of the seventh.
"Andy came up with a big hit. We had a lot of guys come up with some big hits (Wednesday)," Zaideman said. "They didn't carry previous at-bats up to the plate with them, so that was big, and Andy's hit was huge."
Lanier (2-for-3, BB, 2B, 2 runs) and Grayson Udombon (2-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI) had multiple-hit efforts for the Trojans in Game 2 to defeat Auburn signee Dawson Sweatt, who allowed four runs on two hits in 5.1 innings of work for the Panthers.
In Game 1, Carrollton jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Panther starter and Wofford signee Hayes Heinecke, scoring single runs in the first, second and fourth.
Prince roped an RBI double to score Asa Awbrey in the first and Jared Aldridge had an RBI base knock in each the second and fourth innings, while Trojan starter Will Carney was cruising right along through four frames, yielding three hits and no runs.
Starr's Mill rallied in the top of the fifth, though, stringing together three straight singles to end Carney's day, which was followed by an RBI single from Thad Ector, a bases-loaded walk to Port and an RBI single from Mizzell to bounce reliever Colton Cosper from the game.
Starr's Mill got two critical insurance runs in the sixth and seventh, scoring on a passed ball with two outs in the sixth and tacking on an unearned run in the seventh for the three-run cushion.
That would prove critical as the Trojans scored an unearned run in the bottom of the seventh following a leadoff double by Awbrey and back-to-back errors, but Carrollton stranded runners at second and third to end the game.
The inability to tack on runs early — and late — came back to bite the Trojans, as they left a runner on third in both the first and second innings, runners on second and third in the fourth, a runner on second in the fifth and the two in scoring position in the seventh for a grand total of seven stranded in scoring position for the contest.
Awbrey (3-for-4, 2B, 2 runs) and Aldridge (2-for-3, 2 RBI) led Carrollton offensively in Game 1, while Jake Blinstrub (2-for-2, BB, run) and Sweatt (2-for-4, 2B, 2 runs) paced the Panthers at the plate.
Now with a third Game 3 in three weeks, Zaideman is looking for his ballclub to showcase its resilience yet again tonight. The winner of the rubber game will host defending state champion Loganville next week in the state semifinals.
"At this stage of the playoffs, you've got to expect to go to Game 3," Zaideman said.