LCHS Cougars nip Raymond; claim playoff berth

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, April 16, 2003

RAYMOND – The Lawrence County Cougars are headed to the Class 4Astate baseball playoffs for the first time since 1997. The Cougarsearned that right with a dramatic 7-4, eight-inning win over theRaymond Rangers on Monday night. The game was a make-up of a gameoriginally scheduled for March 12th.

Simply put, Lawrence County had to win at Raymond to make theplayoffs. A Raymond win would have sent Terry to the playoffs asthe second-place team in Division 6-4A. Brookhaven had alreadyclinched first place in the division.

BHS finished with a 15-3 division mark. Lawrence County andTerry both finished at 14-4, but LCHS advances because the Cougarsdefeated Terry in two of three games last week.

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Third-year Lawrence County head coach Chris Clark wasunderstandably elated. “This is awesome, man!” Clark exclaimed. “Iam so proud for this baseball team, particularly for our twoseniors, David Gilbert and Corey Rogers. It’s been a while sinceLawrence County has been in the playoffs, and the fact that we’vehad to battle so hard at Terry and Raymond these final nights,makes it that much sweeter. Our kids earned this trip.”

The Cougars sure had to earn it on Monday. Even though Raymondwas playing for nothing but pride, the Rangers battled like theywere still in the hunt for a playoff spot. And with ace left-handerDale Brewer shutting the Cougars down for much of the game, Raymondbuilt up a 4-1 lead.

“As pleased as I am that we won the game,” said long-time I justcan’t say enough about the effort Raymond put forth,” saidlong-time LCHS assistant coach Craig Davis. “With no playoff hopes,they went out and did justice to our great game. It seems likeBrewer and (Antione) Clay have been playing for Raymond since theywere little kids.

“They’re two old proud senior warriors now, and we have all therespect in the world for them.”

Lawrence County touched Brewer for a run in the top of thefirst, as Gilbert walked, and Michael Thompson singled. After that,Brewer and the Rangers took control. In the bottom of the first,Raymond plated three runs for a 3-1 lead. Standout center fielderAntione Clay had an RBI single in the inning, but the big blow wasa two-strike, two-out, two-run single by rightfielder JaredElmore.

Brewer, meanwhile, settled in to a seemingly unhitable pattern.After Lawrence County scored that first run, Brewer retired 10Cougar batters in a row, six of them by strikeout. In the bottom ofthe third, Brewer added to Lawrence County’s misery by whacking asolo homer off LCHS starter Luke Watts. Raymond then led 4-1.

When all seemed lost, or at least nearly so for the Cougars,senior first baseman Corey Rogers provided the blow that turnedthings around. His fourth-inning, solo homer off Brewer, on an 0-2pitch, cut the Raymond lead to 4-2 and infused new life into thestaggering Cougars.

Rogers’s homer was his second big blow off Brewer this season.Back in early March, with Lawrence County struggling with a 3-7record and trailing the Rangers 3-1, his two-run blast tied thegame. LCHS went on to win that game and has now won 15 of its last18 games.

“I said it then and I still say it now, that one swing saved ourseason,” Davis said. “We were headed nowhere fast when Corey hitthat one and it turned our whole season around. It was the same waytonight.

“Even though we were still down 4-2, it gave us new life whenBrewer had really been having his way with us.”

When Elmore led off the Raymond half of the fourth with adouble, Clark called on Casey Williams to relieve Watts. Williamswas simply phenomenal. He pitched the rest of the way, retiring 15of the 16 Raymond batters he faced in running his record to 8-1. Hestruck out nine.

“Casey came in and pitched great,” Coach Clark said. “Lukewasn’t throwing badly at all, but they were hitting him a littlebit. We brought Casey in in a tough spot, and he pitched out of it.They never did anything against him after that.”

A fifth-inning single by Antione Clay was the only baserunnerWilliams allowed.

As Williams was quieting the Raymond bats, LCHS clawed back intothe game. In the top of the sixth, the Cougars tied the scorewithout getting a base hit. Two walks, a hit batsman, and an errorground ball off the bat of Marlon Stanfield knotted the game at4-4.

Both teams went quietly in the seventh, but Lawrence Countyfinally got to Brewer in the eighth as Klein Harbour and Williamsstarted the frame with singles. A walk and two hit batsmen led to athree-run Cougar outburst and the Cougar’s first playoff trip insix years.

In typical Cougar fashion, the game ended on a superb play byLCHS shortstop David Gilbert, who made a diving grab of Brewer’spop fly in shallow left field.

On Thursday, Lawrence County will open a best-of-three serieswith East Central in the opening round of the state 4A baseballplayoffs. East Central was the Cougars’ last playoff opponent,eliminating LCHS in heart-breaking fashion en route to the south 4Atitle. The memories of that series are still fresh for Davis andfellow assistant coach Cory Keyes, a senior on that ’97 team.

“We let one get away in the bottom of the seventh down there,”Davis remembered, “and then we lost in eight innings at our place.They went on to play New Hope for the state championship, and wewent on to the house. It still stings six years later, I assureyou.”