Epic win for Cavaliers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
LINDALE – Down to their final out, and with the end of the season looming, the Callaway Cavaliers staged an epic rally to pull off a memorable and stunning win.
Trailing 6-3 in the top of the seventh inning, the Cavaliers came through with three consecutive two-out RBI hits, including a two-run single by freshman Bryce Hubbard that put his team on top.
Armed with the lead, pitcher Justin Moore finished Pepperell off in the bottom of the seventh inning to preserve the remarkable 7-6 victory and send Callaway into the third round of the Class AA state playoffs to face Thomasville.
The Dragons appeared to be moments away from securing the home win and advancing in the playoffs, but instead it was the Cavaliers celebrating the game three victory.
“It’s a character win,” said Callaway head coach Dusty Hubbard. “Hopefully it’s one of those wins you can ride for a while. It was just unbelievable fight. Our kids never stopped. They believed the whole time. You do that, you give yourself a chance.”
The seventh inning began innocently enough with a fly-out, but the Cavaliers went to work with one out.
Andrew Locke singled, Kaden Rogers was hit by a pitch, and Blake Sheppard reached on a base hit to load the bases.
Pepperell got a strikeout for the second out, but with the bases still full, Nate Lee and CJ Stephens came through with back-to-back RBI singles to cut Pepperell’s lead to one.
Hubbard then stepped to the plate and, on the first pitch, lined the ball to left field for a base hit, and the tying and go-ahead runs scored.
“I was just thinking, I hope they score, and I was hoping they wouldn’t catch it,” Bryce Hubbard said. “That was the biggest thing.”
Before his at-bat, Bryce Hubbard met with his dad and head coach, who is also the third-base coach.
“I called him over, and he looked like he was waiting for some great advice, and I said all I can tell you is to get a hit,” Dusty Hubbard said.
One of the biggest hits of the game came from Nate Lee, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter and came through in a big way. Stephens, who’d walked three times previously, kept it going with his RBI single before Bryce Hubbard delivered the go-ahead hit.
“I was so proud of Nate to come in there and get a clutch hit, and CJ Stephens follows him, and then Bryce comes through,” Dusty Hubbard said. “It was a whole team effort. I know it sounds cheesy, but it was our time. That’s how I feel. I feel terrible for the Pepperell kids because they fought their hearts out. I thought they really played well today.”
Moore, Callaway’s hard-throwing right-hander, went to work in the bottom of the seventh.
Moore struck out the first two batters he faced, and after an error gave Pepperell some hope, a groundout ended the suspense.
“I just had to pump it in there, throw strikes, and try to get us the win,” Moore said.
It was a game that reminded Dusty Hubbard of one of his most difficult moments as a coach.
In game three of a semifinal series in 2019, Callaway watched a three-run lead in the seventh inning evaporate in the seventh inning, and Rockmart won 7-5 to reach the championship series.
Two years later, Hubbard was on the winning side of one of those dramatic late-game rallies.
“I’ve been on the other end of how Pepperell is feeling right now,” Hubbard said. “It’s eerily similar to Rockmart for us. We were up 5-2 in the last inning, and they were up 6-3. We just kept stringing hits together, and then before you know it, we get the big hit to go up 7-6, and Moore goes out and looks like Justin Moore for the first time the whole series.”
The Dragons jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a pair of runs in the first inning, and the Cavaliers took their first lead on a bases-loaded double by Hubbard in the fourth inning that drove in three runs.
The Dragons came right back with three runs in their half of the fourth inning to reclaim the lead, and they went up 6-3 with a single run in the bottom of the sixth, setting the stage for the Cavaliers’ seventh-inning fireworks.
“We’ve got a lot of grit, a lot of heart, and we proved that today,” Moore said.
Hubbard was the offensive star of the game for the Cavaliers with three hits and five RBIs, and Stephens and Lee also had RBI hits. Moore had a hit while reaching twice on walks, and Sheppard had a huge hit in the seventh inning while also reaching twice on walks.
Locke and Jimmie Dukes had one hit apiece, and Will Cavender, Eli Freeman, Avery Hewell, Kaden Rogers, Houston Wilson, Lee and Locke each scored a run.
Dukes was Callaway’s starting pitcher, and he left after giving up two runs in the first inning.
Tucker Starling, who threw a five-inning shutout in game two, pitched the next 2 2/3 innings, and while he allowed three runs, he ate up some valuable innings.
Bryce Hubbard walked two batters before giving way to Moore, who pitched the final 3 1/3 innings.
Moore, who had a rocky game one performance on the mound, held Pepperell to two hits and one run with three strikeouts.
It was a game where everyone on the team, regardless of their role, contributed to the season-saving victory.
“It was all of us,” Bryce Hubbard said. “It wasn’t a single person. It was the whole team.”