Monday evening's Region 7-AAAAA battle between the Carrollton and Villa Rica high school baseball teams was about as tight of a ballgame as one would expect from two bitter rivals this late into the regular season.
In the end, it was the road Wildcats who pumped their fists in victory, edging the No. 3 Trojans in a 5-4 nail-biter to hand the Black and Gold their first region setback of the season.
As has been the case for Villa Rica (13-11, 6-5 Region 7-AAAAA) all spring, the combination of small-ball tactics at the plate and a big-time performance on the mound from senior ace Logan Smallwood proved to be the winning formula against Carrollton (21-4, 10-1).
VR head coach Neal Hannah was pleased that his guys did just enough to get the job done on Monday.
"Logan didn't throw his best game, but he grinded it out and threw well enough to win. He really battled through some tough situations," Hannah said. "We got some big hits at opportune times and came out on top."
The two region rivals traded runs in the first inning as a Parker Wells RBI single in the top of the first briefly put the visitors on top before a Brandon Prince groundout in the bottom half of the frame brought home Destine Udombon to tie the ballgame.
They would trade blows yet again in the third inning when a Smallwood RBI single to put VR up would be offset by a Udombon RBI base hit to once again even the ball game, 2-2.
Inning No. 4 brought a display of pitching dominance as Trojan ace Rhett Daniel set down the Wildcat order with three strikeouts, while the southpaw Smallwood delivered a routine 1-2-3 inning.
After chipping away, the Wildcat offense would finally get to the Coastal Carolina signee Daniel in the top of the fifth.
With the bases loaded, VR took the lead when left fielder Johnny Bravy scored off a passed ball. Immediately afterward, designated hitter Trevor Murphy blasted a two-run single to right-center to give Villa Rica a three-run advantage and ending the afternoon for the senior Daniel.
But the Trojans had a pair of answers in the bottom half of the inning when a Ryan Anderson sacrifice fly and a Jared Aldridge double each produced runs for the Trojans to make the score 5-4.
After a scoreless sixth, the Trojans threatened to tie the game in a pressure-filled bottom of the seventh. Right fielder Charlie Lanier led off with a single and proceeded to steal second to put himself in a position as the potential tying run.
But the VR veteran Smallwood once again came up huge for his team in the clutch, finishing off the complete game with a Ty Murray flyout, an Anderson punchout and an Aldridge popup for the third and final out.
Hannah further elaborated on his team's much-needed region victory.
The loss marks Carrollton's first setback since March 1.
Carrollton head coach Ryan Zaideman was disappointed in the outcome, but was proud of the way his team battled late in the contest.
"We put ourselves in position to win the game, so I was happy with that," Zaideman said. "I thought Rhett came out and did a really good job pitching for us. We just didn't play very good defense behind him and didn't come away with key hits when we needed them and they did. They played a very good ballgame and you just have to tip your hat to them."
The two teams will meet again on Wednesday at Villa Rica at 5:55 p.m. Hannah is looking for his team to take a similar approach.
"We played small ball, bunted, took advantage of walks and got the big hits when we needed it," Hannah said. "We're going to have to take that same approach on Wednesday."