By PATRICK CASEY
The Freeport Bulldogs qualified for the state playoffs for the first time since 1997 as they defeated the Ponce de Leon Pirates last week 12-5 in a District 1, Class 2A semi-final.
The Bulldogs followed up the semi-final win with a hard fought home loss to the Jay Royals 3-2 in eight innings in the district championship game to earn a first round state playoff road trip to Altha on Tuesday.
Freeport (17-10) entered the district tournament as the host while earning the No. 2-seed and a first round bye in the six-team district. The Bulldogs were matched with PDL after the Pirates dispatched Pensacola Christian 16-5 in an opening round contest.
PDL’s Jared Bump held Freeport at bay for five innings as the Pirates built a 5-3 lead, but things came unglued in the bottom of the sixth inning as the Bulldogs plated nine runs to rally and got the bats going to rally for the win and defeat the Pirates for the third time this season.
Drew Farris pounded out four hits while Cole Weeks picked up the win, setting up a third game with the Jay Royals for the district title.
Jay got a pair of runs in the third inning to take a 2-0 lead as Brandt Hendricks and Myles Hammac each drove in a run to put the Royals up early.
Freeport responded with two runs in the top of the fifth inning as Josh Rhodes and Drew Farris countered with RBI hits to tie the game at 2-2.
The game stayed that way until the bottom of the eighth inning when Tyler DeGraaf ended the game with a two-out single to give Jay (17-4) a 3-2 victory.
Both Hendricks and Freeport’s Michael Graziani pitched the entire game with Hendricks striking out 16 Freeport batters.
Game Notes: Freeport lost all three meetings with the Royals this season, but took them to eight innings in two of the three games. Freeport may get another shot at the Royals if they can win in Altha and Jay knocks off Panama City Bozeman in the opening round. Second round games will be played on Friday, May 2. Both Altha and Freeport are 0-3 in the state playoffs, meaning one of the two schools is going to get their first playoff win in school history on Tuesday, April 29. (The game had not been played as of our weekly press deadline.) PDL beat Altha 15-5 on March 1 in the only meeting between the two schools, but Altha has solid pitching, so winning on the road will require a solid effort from Freeport’s pitching staff. Freeport Coach Gene Martin has been the head coach in all three of Freeport’s prior playoff games. The Bulldogs lost in 1988 to Jay 11-3, in 1990 to Pensacola Catholic 19-3 and in 1997 to Liberty County 9-1.