Senior reliever Wayne Hudson closed the door on Southern and its Cinderella season yesterday, as two-time defending state 2A champion Northeast (10-10) rallied from a 3-0 deficit and dealt the Bulldogs (9-11) a 5-3 defeat to take the fourth and final seed in Class 2A, Region III.
The showdown offered a contrast with Northeast, 64-6 over the past three years, including a 24-0 mythical national championship season in 1991, suffering through a season of disappointment, and Southern on the upswing.
"I'm happy we're in the playoffs, but the year overall has been a downer because I thought we would do better with our pitching," said veteran Northeast coach Harry Lentz, whose Eagles will get a second chance.
Southern gets no such chance after being eliminated from what would have been its first postseason appearance since 1977. Third-year coach Chuck Crandell has given new life to what was a dismal program.
Southern had gone 15-118 in eight previous seasons, including 9-27 since Crandell took over. The Bulldogs' last respectable team was 8-10 in 1981.
"I'm disappointed we lost today, but I'm proud of the growth this club has shown," said Crandell, who had only two seniors in his starting lineup yesterday.
"They've gained respect and gone from playing not to lose to playing to win. They've gone from being in close games to winning close games."
The Bulldogs almost did that yesterday save for Hudson's 4 2/3 innings of scoreless one-hit relief and the Eagles' getting it done with the bat.
Southern touched Northeast starter Chris Kelly for two runs in the second on a sacrifice fly by Rob Herrin and a single by Chris Worell, and added one in the third when Kelly couldn't find the plate.
Kelly, who, according to Lentz, "had been sharp his last three outings," had walked two Bulldogs in the second and after getting the first man in the third, walked the bases full. Tom Estep drew ball four on a 3-1 pitch to make it 3-0, and Lentz called for Hudson, who came in from center field.
Hudson struck out two in a row to quell a potential big inning and then struck out the side in the fourth to keep his teammates in the game.
Back-to-back doubles by Ed Nalley and designated hitter Ryan Herzberger produced two Eagles runs in the third. In the fifth, Kelly, who moved to the outfield after leaving the mound, delivered a two-out, game-tying single to center, and the go-ahead run was cut down at home on a perfect throw by Southern center fielder Wayne Small.
In the sixth, Kirk Rogers gave up a leadoff double to Jim Wanner and two walks to load the bases. Nalley hit the first pitch for a double off the bottom of the fence in right-center to drive in two runs, and the third man, courtesy runner Shawn Fleming, was thrown out at home.
Rogers got out of the inning without further harm.
Any chance of a Southern comeback was thwarted when Cory Contee drew a leadoff walk in the top of the seventh and was picked off by Hudson. Contee had gotten back but stepped off the bag in foul territory as Nalley applied a swinging tag.
Hudson got the next two hitters to seal it.