Back-to-back district titles for CHS
GAINESVILLE — Jordan Culp sat atop Columbia head coach Heath Phillips’ shoulders, drenched in Gatorade.
Their jaws dropped in shock from the unexpected shower, but nothing was shocking about Thursday night’s result.
It’s what the Tigers expected when they first took the field this season.
Behind a complete-game, three-hitter from pitcher Tyler Myrick, who also homered once, Columbia defeated Middleburg 4-1 in the District 3-7A final at Gainesville High Thursday night. It’s the second straight district championship for the Tigers, who will host Nease in a Class 7A regional quarterfinal next Wednesday.
It was also Columbia’s third win over Middleburg in as many games this season.
“I know the boys are excited, their families are excited for them and I’m excited. The coaching staff is excited. Everybody is excited,” Phillips said. “This was one of our goals coming into the year — making it to the state playoffs and winning the district championship. We’ve accomplished two of the three so far. I’m very proud of each and every one of them.”
Of course, the third is a state championship, which is now only five more wins away. But the Tigers, now winners of six straight, are just glad to have home field advantage for next week’s playoff opener.
“It’s a big relief to win another district championship,” said Myrick, who finished with 10 strikeouts. “To get the first round at home is a big deal to all of us and the fans.”
Myrick got run support early in the game when Brock Edge hit a two-out RBI single in the first inning to score Chris Beasley, who reached on an error to lead off the frame. Edge had to foul off multiple pitches before finally sending a liner into the outfield deep enough to score the speedy Beasley.
Columbia (16-11) scored two more runs off Middleburg starter Jared Wells in the third, the first via an RBI single by Culp to score Dylan Blair, who led off the third with a walk. Edge then loaded the bases with his second single of the night before Myrick drove Kaleb Thomas home with a sacrifice fly to put Columbia up 3-0.
Wells didn’t stick around past the fourth inning, giving up two earned runs on five hits with just two strikeouts before being relieved by Seth Loyd for the remainder of the game.
Myrick then struck with his bat again in the sixth, hitting a solo home run to left field to put Columbia up 4-0. It was his fourth home run of the district tournament after not hitting a single dinger in his high school career.
“I’ve been seeing the ball really well,” Myrick said. “I got the count where I wanted, got the fastball and squared it up.”
Middleburg (6-16) had its chances to score runs, putting runners in scoring position in three of the first four innings. But Myrick continued to work himself out of jams as the Broncos went 0-8 with runners in scoring position, their only run coming via an error.
Myrick got plenty of help from his defense as well, especially in the second. As Zach Huskisson tried to steal third, Columbia catcher TJ Price threw a rocket down to third baseman Witt Register, who tagged Huskisson out after he slid too far off the bag to end the inning.
“I saw the kid going on an 0-2 fastball outside, I got it and just snapped it to Witt, and Witt made a great tag,” Price said.
“It was a game-changer. The momentum shifted,” added Register.
It certainly did for Myrick, who retired 13 of the next 14 batters he faced. He got into a little bit of trouble in the seventh, though, walking two batters in a row on four straight pitches with only one out that set up Middleburg’s only run.
After a fielder’s choice put runners on the corners, Scott Kneer took off to steal second and Price overthrew Alex Mitchell trying to catch him. The ball rolled into centerfield and allowed Alan Burnsed to score.
But just as Myrick has done for most of his career, he collected himself, finishing the game with his 10th strikeout that sent the Tigers into jubilation.
“He’s been in these situations. He wants the ball,” Phillips said. “We all know what type of player he is. He wants to put them on his back, and that’s just the type of kid he is. That’s a credit to everybody that’s helped him along the way and giving him the mentality to go right at guys, and he showed it tonight.”