Down 6-3 entering the top of the seventh in a win-or-go-home Game 3 at Schley County, the Commerce Tigers’ hopes of advancing in the Class A Public state playoffs seemed bleak.

In a span of three batters, the bleak turned to hope as Schley County loaded the bases with three-straight walks. Two batters and one out later, hope seemed brighter when Kody Mintz scored on a fourth walk. But, a strikeout and a flyout later, all hope for a comeback ended, along with the Tigers’ 2019 season.

Commerce fell to Schley County 6-4 in Game 3 of the Elite Eight series. The Tigers finished the season with a 22-13 record. The two teams split Games 1 and 2, with Schley County taking Game 1 and the Tigers winning Game 2.

Schley County got a few “clutch hits” early in Game 3, Commerce head coach Steve Cotrell said. The hits put the pressure squarely on the Tigers to respond.

“I thought in Game 2 we did,” Cotrell said. “In Game 1, they hit a few home runs and got out on us. That’s high school baseball. If you can keep pressure on other teams, teams play different, no matter how talented they are.

“I felt like they put the pressure on us today. I thought we handled it well. We gave ourselves a chance, and that’s all you can ask of these kids. Sometimes the baseball gods are going to give you that break and sometimes not. I just hate it for these kids that it didn’t work out for us.”

Game 3 wasn’t without some controversy. In the bottom of the fifth, with the bases loaded and one out, a Jacob Welch diving catch in the infield wasn’t clearly identified by the umpires. Welch threw home thinking there was a force out, and catcher Chase Bridges threw back to first after the Schley County baserunner came off the bag with the ball still alive.

The runner was called safe at first, but a Commerce appeal got the call overturned, and a third out.

But then the no catch came into question. After a lengthy discussion by the three umpires and both head coaches, it was deemed a catch but that the baserunner tagged up at third and the run counted, which meant no force out at home. Schley County led 6-1 after the ruling.

“You can only control what you can control,” Cotrell said of the call. “At the time, I didn’t feel like I needed to push the limit. Our kids kind of lost it. I felt like I needed to be there for our kids.

“I could’ve went the other way and showed my tail, but decided that wasn’t the time to do it in front of the kids.”

Despite the call and 6-1 deficit, the Tigers battled back in the sixth inning, snagging two runs with outs. Hayden Hutto reached base due to a fielding error on Schley County. The error allowed Chandler Martin to score and cut the deficit to 6-2.

TJ Trudnak followed Hutto with a grounder to the shortstop, but an errant throw to second base led to Gray Holbrook making it to home plate. The Tigers trailed 6-3.

In the top of the seventh, seven Tigers made plate appearances with four reaching base via walk. The game ended on a Hutto flyout to right field.

“These kids have been tough nuts,” Cotrell said. “I know they’re kind of rowdy in the dugout, but they pull for another. And the big thing is what we try to teach is we’re a family, and we’re going to play from first pitch to last pitch, no matter what the score is. We’ll look at the scoreboard at the end.

“That just shows the character of our senior group. They don’t quit…They believed in one another. And until that (last) ball was caught, they believed they were going to win. That’s fun coaching those kinds of kids.”

After trailing 2-0 after the first inning, Commerce got on the board in the top of second when Hutto ripped a single to plate pinchrunner Will Slater. The score remained 2-1 until the bottom of the fourth when Ashton Goodin hit a solo homer to push the lead to 3-1.

Schley County added its final three runs in the fifth. One run came via a four-pitch walk with the bases loaded, the second came on error, followed by the catch, no-catch controversy.

The Tigers are graduating six seniors off this year’s squad: Landon Davis, Hutto, Martin, Welch, Chase Bridges and Tucker Maloch. Cotrell said they’re “all like sons.”

“The crazy thing is they’re all different personalities,” he said. “You have to handle them all different, but at the same time they know where that line is, and they know when to tow the line and draw back, and they always respected that.

“I respected that of them…I didn’t have to worry about them coming to practice, being late for practice. When we put the uniform on, they were going to represent the high school well.”

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