The Airline Vikings used clutch hitting and an outstanding performance on the mound from Kyle Backofen to defeat the Byrd Yellow Jackets 8-4 in Game 1 of their best-of-3 Class 5A quarterfinal series Friday night at Airline.
If the No. 3 seed Vikings (30-4) win Game 2 today, Airline will advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2008. A win by No. 11 Byrd (22-10) will force a decisive Game 3 immediately following. First pitch is 2 p.m. at Airline.
The victory was District 1-5A champion Airline’s 17th in a row and third over 1-5A runner-up Byrd this season.
The Benton Tigers weren’t as fortunate. The sixth-seeded Tigers also got an outstanding pitching performance from Jackson Rutledge against No. 3 West Ouachita in Game 1 of their best-of-3 Class 4A quarterfinal series in West Monroe.
But the Chiefs’ Luke Honeycutt was just as effective, and West Ouachita (24-8) won the pitchers’ duel 3-1. Game 2 is 1 p.m. Saturday at West Ouachita. Benton (20-12) must win to force a Game 3 which will immediately follow.
The Tigers had a 12-game winning streak snapped.
At Airline, Peyton Davis led the Vikings at the plate, going 2-for-3 with four RBI. Davis launched a three-run home run over the left-field wall in the bottom of the first to give the Vikings a 3-1 lead.
Davis also had a two-out RBI single to put Airline up 8-3 in the sixth. Earlier in the inning, Cameron Parikh smashed a one-out triple to center field, scoring a run.
Austin Zickefoose laced a two-out triple to right field with two outs in the fifth, scoring two runs and giving the Vikings a 5-1 lead.
Steele Netterville got Byrd off to a good start with a two-strike, two-out home run over the left field wall in the top of the first.
It didn’t take long for the Vikings to answer.
Byrd’s Andrew Suggs, who went the distance, walked Hayden Waxley and Jonathan Brandon to start the bottom of the first. Davis then smashed a 3-1 pitch out of the park.
Suggs settled down and got the next three Vikings out.
Backofen allowed only one baserunner in the second through fifth innings. He allowed only four hits and struck out eight in the game.
In the fourth, Airline left runners stranded at second and third.
Jonathan Brandon got things going in the fifth with a one-out single. After Davis lined out, Jarrett Bamburg came through with a clutch infield single. Zickefoose followed with his triple, scoring Brandon and Bamburg.
The Jackets made things interesting in the sixth. Zavier Moore doubled off the top of the right-field wall with two outs, scoring two runs to cut the Vikings lead to 5-3. But Backofen threw Suggs out at first on an attempted bunt to get out of the inning.
The suspense didn’t last long.
In the bottom of the inning, Cameron Taylor drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Parikh brought him home with his triple. Waxley reached on an error and Parikh scored on a wild pitch. Waxley advanced to second and scored on on Davis’ single to make it an 8-3 game.
Byrd scored a run with no outs in the seventh thanks to a couple of errors. But Backofen got a groundout and then struck out the final two batters to end the game.
At West Ouachita, Coleman Nerren had two of Benton’s five hits. Tanner Craft, who will be on the mound Saturday, had a triple.
Rutledge allowed just four hits and struck out 12.
The Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth. With two outs and none on, Garrett Hable reached on an error and advanced to second. Nerren followed with an infield single. Cody Norris scored Hable with a single to center field.
The Chiefs tied it on Micah Menard’s homer with two outs in the bottom of the inning.
West Ouachita scored its other two runs in the fifth on two doubles and an error.
Things looked promising in the sixth for Benton when Conner Jack Smith led off with a single. But the Chiefs turned a double play.
Craft tripled with two outs in the seventh, but a groundout ended the game.
The Tigers put runners on first and second in the second inning thanks to a Nerren single and walk. Honeycutt ended the threat with a strikeout.
NOTE: Some of the above report is based on box scores and play-by-plays on the teams’ official GameChanger accounts and information received from coaches.
— Russell Hedges, email@example.com