The final four dreams of the Heard County High School baseball program will be put on hold for another year.
The second-seeded Braves were swept out of the Class AA playoffs in their quarterfinal doubleheader versus Berrien on Wednesday, falling 8-2 to the second-seeded Rebels in Game 1 before bowing out in a 3-0 shutout in Game 2 at Alford Field.
Scoreless midway through the first of the twin bill, fortunes turned south for the Braves (17-16), as Berrien (25-12) posted eight runs in the final four innings to take a 1-0 series lead.
"We had 11 hits in the ballgame, but the difference was they had some key hits with runners in scoring position and we didn't, so you give credit Berrien for that," Heard County head coach Trent Bianco said. "They're a very well-coached team."
Fighting to keep their season alive in Game 2, HC starting pitcher Bryan Jones battled Rebel hurler Brock Jewell in a pitchers' duel that left the two combatants scoreless late in the ballgame.
That was until Berrien's Justin Roberts came up huge in the bottom of the fifth, sending home Turner Taylor with an RBI double to give the road team a 1-0 advantage. Capitalizing on three costly Heard errors in the sixth, the Rebs would post two additional runs for insurance.
With one last chance to get something going at the plate, Jones and Tanner Collins managed to get on base with no outs. But after a Davey Raines strikeout, Will Hammett grounded into a 5-3 double play to end the game, series and subsequently, the 2018 campaign for the Braves.
After embracing his players one last time at Alford Field this spring, Bianco couldn't compliment his troops enough.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of this group. All we heard going into this season was how we lost so many guys and how we'd be taking a step back. This senior group put us on their back with leadership and brought us back to the elite eight with a shot at going to the final four," Bianco said.
"When you start 1-8, sometimes that can be tough for high school kids to show up and go to work every day, but our kids wouldn't allow anything else. They were fantastic and I know I speak for my entire coaching staff when I say I couldn't be more proud of them. To have a better representation of our school, I don't think you'd find it."
The Braves will be saying goodbye to Jones and Raines, along with fellow seniors A.J. Head, Travor Garcia and Tyler Hitzeman. As for the HC returnees, Bianco emphasized that the path back to the elite eight is theirs for the taking.
"When you go to the elite eight three out of four years, that's something special. Our seniors paved the way and for our underclassmen returning, this experience is just going to make them hungrier heading into the offseason," Bianco said. "We just have to continue to work hard like we do and hopefully we'll get back to this point and break down the door one day."