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Auburn rallies, beats Eastside 6-3 in 1A West Region baseball semifinal

Dave Ongie • Jun 7, 2014 at 12:15 AM

BRISTOL, Va. — Auburn's baseball team has spent most of the 2014 season living on the ragged edge between chaos and clutch.

So when Friday's Region 1A West semifinal against Eastside devolved into a less-than-pristine contest, it played right into the Eagles' hands. Auburn overcame four errors with a flurry of key hits and a rock-solid, complete-game performance by starter Levi Bower to beat the Spartans 6-3.

Auburn advanced to face Honaker in Saturday's regional championship game and also secured a spot in next week's VHSL 1A tournament.

The loss marked the end of the line for Eastside.

"It's not a coincidence on a big stage," Spartans coach Chris Clay said of the miscues by both teams in Friday's game. "But they made plays. They made more big plays and Bower pitched his tail off."

The Spartans used an error and a passed ball to jump out to a 1-0 lead and two more errors on the same play in the bottom of the third to tie the game at 2. But Bower responded with an RBI double to put his team ahead for good in the top of the fourth and added a run-scoring single in the fifth to give Auburn a commanding 6-2 advantage.

"With the way we were hitting the ball today, I knew errors weren't going to kill us," said Bower, who scattered seven hits across seven innings and struck out five batters. "We've got to learn to play with those errors in big games."

Auburn coach Skip Thompson was impressed with Bower's ability to keep chugging along no matter what happens behind him in the field.

"Levi's a gamer," Thompson said. "We played the most god-awful defense behind that kid you've ever seen. But he just battles. He never quits. He's not the most talented kid out there, but he has the biggest heart."

The top of the fifth inning proved to be too much for Eastside to overcome. Bower's single chased Eastside starter Matt Green, who gave way to left-hander Austin Smallwood. Smallwood struck out five batters without allowing a hit over the final 2 1-3 innings, leaving Clay wondering what might have been.

"Hindsight is 20/20," Clay said. "If we made a move to the lefty sooner, maybe we minimize that damage a little bit. But we went with what we thought was our best guy there and they knocked him around, plain and simple."

Auburn (13-11) finished with eight hits. Allen Huff, Cody Akers, Tanner DeHart and Ethan Fisher each came through with a crucial RBI for the Eagles, but Thompson knows his team will need to shore up its defense.

"It doesn't matter how much we practice defensive stuff. For whatever reason, in a game we just don't get it done," he said. "If we want to win games next week, we've got to get it done."

While Thompson looks forward to next week, Clay was left looking ahead to next season. A talented senior class has lifted the young program to new heights during each of the last three seasons, but those seniors are now on their way out the door.

"Our seniors have progressively taken us deeper and shown those young guys," Clay said. "Now they're kind of passing the torch.

"(The young guys) can either carry it on or put it out, but the groundwork is laid by the seniors that we're losing."

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