MILTON, Ga. — Cambridge looked poised to earn a playoff series win for the first time at home April 25 with an 8-0 lead after five innings of the decisive Game 3 against River Ridge Thursday night. Starting pitcher Evan Pollifrone had a no-hitter working, Cambridge’s bats had been effective and River Ridge was appeared shaky with multiple errors allowing the Bears to rack up added runs.
But then it all unraveled.
The Knights finally caught up to Pollifrone and used four hits to cut the deficit to 8-4 with no outs. Michael Polk relieved Pollifrone and earned a quick strikeout, but a Cambridge fielding allowed another run to cross the plate. The Knights’ then earned a hit with a bunt tapped beyond Polk to load the bases. River Ridge kept its momentum going and sent their dugout into a frenzy with a three-run double to complete the comeback. However, the Knights were not yet done in the sixth and added another RBI single to take a 9-8 lead.
After leading from the first inning, the Bears were suddenly trailing with just three outs to work with. Though Mitch Fleming reached on a dropped third strike, the Bears could did not respond to the Knights’ comeback and the series and season came to an end.
“It just seemed like a sleeping beast woke up out of [River Ridge],” Cambridge head coach Evan Tieles said. “We knew they could put some runs up, and that’s why you never feel comfortable with any kind of a lead against a team like that. It’s never what you expect to happen, but everything started going their way. They had some good at bats, they found holes, made in-game adjustments and they just ran with it.”
The devastating nature of the loss was apparent in the Bears’ dugout following the game.
“There’s not much you tell the guys after a game like that,” Tieles said. “You just look back and reflect on the season, the life lessons and hope it was a good experience playing high school baseball.”
Despite the crushing loss, Tieles said the Bears’ can still rest their head high following a 12-4 record in the highly-competitive Region 7-AAAAAA gauntlet and for capturing the program’s first home playoff series.
“It’s got to be a season to be proud of when you consider how we competed in region play, and we played for a region championship in the last game of the regular season,” Tieles said. “It’s been an awesome season with these guys. They gave everything they could. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way at the end of it, but it’s a season to be proud of for sure.”
The second-year head coach was also quick to praise his seven seniors who saw their high school baseball careers end Thursday night.
“These seniors really bought-in a set the bar,” he said. “The change in head coaches over the years is tough for anybody, and these guys made some major changes and we saw the growth this year. A lot of that credit goes to the senior class. They are going to be missed for sure.”
Cambridge took a 2-0 lead in the first inning of Game 3 with Jackson Woods hustling out a ground ball to allow a run to score. With River Ridge protesting the call at first, Cambridge scored another run with heads-up base running.
A little league play allowed the Bears to take a 4-0 lead in the second inning when Justin Hozman laid down a sacrifice bunt. River Ridge had a throwing error to first to allow one run to score and Hozman rounded the bases and crossed home following another Knights’ throwing error to third on the same play. Ryan Todd hit a two-run double and Ross Friedrick drove in a run to put the Bears up 7-0 in the fourth inning.
Nicho Armstrong drove in a run in the top of the fifth with a double, his third hit of the game.
Pollifrone pitched 6.1 innings, allowing four hits and five earned runs with a walk and a strikeout in Game 3. Polk went 0.2 innings allowing two earned runs off three hits with two walks.
Cambridge took Game 1 in walk-off fashion, rallying back from a 5-2 deficit to set up a game-winning single from Danny DeSousa in the bottom of the seventh inning.
River Ridge flipped the script in Game 2 of the doubleheader, earning a 2-1 win with a walk-off hit in the eighth inning to force the decisive Game 3.