The Emanuel County Institute Bulldogs played in the Elite 8 last week, taking on Commerce for a shot to move on to the Final 4 of the GHSA Class A baseball playoffs. Unfortunately, the saga would end in the quarterfinals as the Tigers upended the hometown boys. ECI did, however, present a challenge for their opponent, facing the if-necessary game on Wednesday.
The series began the day prior, and the Bulldogs utilized a late lead to seal the Game 1 victory.
Lawson Mercer got the offense fired up in the first inning, homering on a 0–2 count to score ECI’s first 2 runs.
Commerce answered in the bottom of the sixth, tying the score at 2–2.
That tally held until Joseph Stewart, batting in the top of the seventh, singled on a 3–1 count, sending the go-ahead run across the plate. ECI scored 1 more run before the game’s end for a 4–2 win.
Mercer was the starter, allowing 6 hits and 2 runs over 5.1 innings, striking out 3 and walking 1. Bryce Kearson picked up the win on the hill for the Dawgs. The righty allowed 1 hit and 0 runs over 1.2 innings, striking out 4 and walking none.
Total, ECI racked up 7 hits on the day. Hudson Henry and Gabe Lee each collected multiple hits for ECI Bulldogs; they led the offense with 2 hits apiece.
The Dawgs carried the momentum into Game 2 but fell short.
Like in the first match-up, ECI took an early lead in the first inning. The Tigers committed an error, and the Dawgs scratched across 1 run.
ECI put up a fight two innings later, putting 6 runs on the board. The Dawgs’ offensive firepower was led by Aden McQuaig, Kearson, Lee, Jack Walden, Mercer, and Henry, all driving in runs in the inning.
Commerce answered in the fourth and took the lead for good with 4 runs. The rally started with a walk, which scored 1 run. Another Tiger batter singled, scoring 1 run, then a hitch-by-pitch put on another Tiger, which, in turn, drove in a third run. Another walk resulted in 1 more run crossing the plate.
Kearson led the way at the plate during Game 2. He called the number of Commerce’s pitcher several times, singling in the first, doubling in the second and again in the fifth, before homering in the seventh. On the day, he went 4-for-4.
Charlie Rehberg also collected multiple hits for the Bulldogs. Through 3 at-bats, he picked up 2 hits.
Despite the loss, ECI racked up 11 hits in the high-scoring affair. Unfortunately, Commerce had nine hits on the way to victory, 17–10.
Stewart got the start and lasted 3 innings, allowing 3 hits and 6 runs while striking out 1.
Jacob Durden took the loss. The righthander allowed 2 hits and 5 runs over .1 innings of work.
With the loss, coach Brooks Collins and company had to back up and regroup. They had just a matter of hours to do so as the rubber match commenced at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
Game 3 began the same as the two preceding it; ECI struck first, plating 2 runs on a Kearson double in the second inning. Stewart also drove in 1 run to make the score 3–0.
ECI pegged on 2 more runs over the next few innings. Walden went deep in the third inning, and Kearson followed in the fourth, sending 2 more runs across the plate for a total of 5.
Commerce came blazing back, plating runs of their own. A homer in the fourth sent 3 runs across and a homer in the fifth sent 2 runs across to even the score at 5.
The Tigers went on to put up 3 more runs for an 8–5 defeat of ECI.
Kearson took the loss. He went 4 innings with 6 hits and 6 runs while striking out 2 from Commerce’s line-up.
He had a day at the plate, going 3-for-4 to lead the Bulldogs in hits.
The Tigers’ win put an end to ECI’s 2022 season, but Collins looks back with pride, seeing how far his team came from the beginning of the year. The Dawgs’ head coach also has high ambitions for 2023.
“It was not the ending that we had hoped for, but this group grew so much since the beginning of the season back in January. This is a great group of kids who learned what it meant to play for each other. We’ll return most of the team next year in hopes of finishing what we’ve started,” he said. “I’d like to thank our lone senior, Joseph Stewart, for the last four years and what he has meant to the ECI baseball program. Joseph has been very important to our success during his high school career and always played the game the right way. We wish Joseph the very best in his future endeavors.”