BY JORDAN D. HILL | JHILL@LEDGER-ENQUIRER.COM
The third time proved to be the charm for the Hardaway Hawks.
Hardaway made short work of Troup County Saturday, winning Game 3 of the second round series 6-2. The red-hot Hawks offense, which put up three runs in the third and two in the fourth, has scored six or more runs in five of its last eight games.
The victory pushes Hardaway (17-15) to the GHSA Class 4A quarterfinals, where it will face either Heritage-Catoosa or Woodward Academy.
“They showed up,” Hardaway head coach Chris Gilstrap said. “There was a point in the year where we weren’t getting those hits, and the record indicated that. We’ve found ways to get on base, put some pressure on some folks and get some big hits.”
Hunter Duke’s at-bat in the third inning set the tone for the afternoon. With Hardaway holding a modest 2-0 lead, the sophomore Duke slammed a pitch over the left-field wall for a two-run home run.
The bases-clearing hit was Duke’s third home run of the season and was only one of a series of hits that helped eliminate the Tigers (24-14).
“I kind of just had a feeling he was going to throw one right down the pipe,” Duke said. “I did what I do best: hit the ball hard.”
Six Hawks notched at least one hit in the stat line Saturday. It was a change of pace from Hardaway, which has predominately found its wins thanks to standout pitching and quality defense.
Chandler Griggs got the start on the mound for the Hawks, but it was his work at the plate that helped Hardaway early. With Kevin Henry on third, Griggs singled to center field, scoring the Hawks’ first run.
Griggs proved himself just as capable with his pitching as the game wore on. He threw six innings for Hardaway, allowing only three and no earned runs.
“We got an excellent performance out of Chandler,” Gilstrap said. “He hadn’t thrown in quite a while. I told them before the game, ‘We’ve got a lot more left on the mound than they do.’ In a Game 3, that’s usually what it comes down to.”
Hardaway will hit the road regardless of the quarterfinals opponent. The series-opening doubleheader will be played Wednesday, with the third game coming Thursday if necessary.
Gilstrap said the team will prepare for the opponent once the Hawks find out who it is but emphasized the Hawks’ fate in the next round remains in their own hands.
“We just have to stay focused on us,” Gilstrap said. “If we don’t show up and play our game, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We have to do our jobs.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports