PURVIS – Lamar Christian faces a tough road of achieving school history in getting past the first round of the playoffs.
Despite the Lions holding as much as a five-run lead over Canton Academy in the first round of the MAIS 3A playoffs on Monday, Lamar Christian fell short 9-6 in the first game of its three-game series against the Panthers.
"(That was a) tough one, and we knew it would be," Lamar Christian coach Drew Mattison said. "It started like we wanted to. We got up 6-1, but we struggled to hold on. (Canton Academy) can swing it. There is no question, but it's a three games series, and we'll come out of it. It's definitely a tough loss, especially with taking the big lead early."
Canton Academy took an early 1-0 lead as Dakota Jordan hit a solo home run with two outs. However, Lamar Christian answered back with three runs by loading the bases with one out. Carson Moon drew an RBI walk which was then followed by a two-run RBI single by Harrison Slade.
In the second inning, pitcher Cade Mattison led the inning with a triple and then later scored on a throwing error by Canton Academy's shortstop to push the lead 4-1.
The Lions capped off their scoring with two more runs in the third inning. Slade drove in another run on a fielder's choice, and then Gage Thompson hit an RBI double to extend the lead 6-1.
"I felt like we left a couple of (runs) out there, but we had some key hits there early that kind of got us going in the right direction," Mattison said.
The change of momentum in the game occurred on the pitcher's mound. The Lions had success off Canton Academy's starting pitcher Zan Ellis, who gave up five earned runs off five hits while walking three batters and hitting another in three innings. But Lamar Christian struggled against Jordan, who took over the mound in relief. Jordan kept the Lions off the board for the rest of the gave as he struck out five batters and allowed two hits and a walk.
"(Jordan) struggled with the curve ball, but he got the fastball in there," Mattison said. "(Canton Academy) made a couple of errors early in the game. We were hitting (Jordan), but they started making every play."
For Lamar Christian, Mattison allowed one run off two hits and struck out nine batters in the first four innings of the game but fell into trouble in the fifth inning as his pitch count grew.
Mattison loaded the bases after giving up a leadoff single and then walking and hitting a batter with no outs. Lamar Christian then committed an infield error that scored two runs for the Panthers. Two more runs scored after a run was walked in and then a fielder's choice RBI that narrowed the lead 6-5.
"I think Cade got tired in the fifth," Mattison said. "I thought he gave us our best chance. I would have pulled him earlier, but they were in the meat of the lineup, and I felt that he gave us our best chance.
"I thought he had a good outing. In a playoff game, each pitch means a little more. In a regular season, I think he deals and probably ends up going seven innings. I think he wore out today. I think every pitch was 120%, and that will wear on you late. He is our guy, and we wanted to stick with him as long as we could."
Taking over on the mound for Mattison was Thompson, who allowed one hit in the sixth but retired the Panthers. However, in the seventh inning, the Panthers got the best of the young pitcher as the Panthers put two runs on base with one out. An RBI sac fly then tied the game, but Canton Academy maintained the momentum and delivered an RBI single and a two-run RBI double.
Lamar Christian will travel to play Canton Academy on Thursday in a series-deciding doubleheader.
"Props have to go to (Canton Academy) with being down 6-1 early, making a two and a half-hour drive, staying in the game and coming out with a win," Mattison said. "It's a three-game series. We have to be ready to go and take it one game at a time. I thought we swung the bat well. We just have to go get them on Thursday."