The senior pitched out of bases-loaded jams in the second and seventh innings, preventing Northgate from adding to its run total, and the Greyhounds won 4-1 in the decisive third game of the second-round series.
Levine threw just beyond 100 pitches in the complete-game victory. He allowed one unearned run on six hits and struck out nine to help send the third-seeded Greyhounds (24-7) into the state quarterfinals for the second straight season. Pope advanced to play at Region 8AAAA champion Loganville, which swept Evans on Wednesday.
The only time Levine faced more than four batters in any inning was in the second and the seventh, and both times he held Northgate (17-14) in check.
After Spencer Perry drew a leadoff walk in the second, Jake Hundley singled and Tyler Bowers reached on an error to load the bases. A one-out walk to Robert Massenburg plated Perry with Northgate’s only run as Levine forced a pop-up and a groundout to end the threat.
Levine faced similar adversity in the seventh, with Pope leading 4-1. Cody Bevil hit a one-out single, moved to second on Spencer Sheheane’s fielder’s choice and reached third when Levine hit the next batter to load the bases, prompting a visit from pitching coach Brandon Martin.
“I didn’t expect that to happen on that at-bat,” Levine said of the hit batsman. “Coach Martin knew I wanted to finish the game. I knew I had to get the next batter. I had to trust myself and hit my spots.
“I had confidence the whole time. I surprised myself when I hit the guy — the ball just got away from me. I stayed calm and had faith in myself to finish the game.”
Levine did that, forcing Perry to fly out to center field to end the game and start the celebration for Pope.
“He’s been doing that for us all year,” Pope coach Jeff Rowland said of Levine. “I feel good about our chances every time we go into a three-game series because we have three guys that can get it done in each game. Ben’s our No. 3 in the playoffs, and he did an unbelievable job for us (Thursday).”
Unlike Game 2 starter Joseph Wiseman who earned a no-decision after Pope committed five errors and produced only three hits in a 5-4 loss, Levine received plenty of run support from his teammates. His defense also played well behind him.
Trailing 1-0 in the second, Pope’s Duane Underwood reached on a fielder’s choice and went to third on Greg Keel’s double. On the next at-bat, Nathaniel Lowe hit a one-out, two-run double to give the Greyhounds a 2-1 advantage.
Harrison Siegal’s two-out RBI single in the fourth added to the lead. David Bohn led off the frame with a single, and pinch-runner Eric Hom came around to score on Siegal’s at-bat.
The Greyhounds added to their margin in the bottom of the sixth. Jake Henson reached on a two-out error and scored on Tripp Sullivan’s double, leading to the 4-1 final.
Lowe batted 1-for-2 with two RBIs, while Siegal was 2-for-3 with an RBI. Wes Smith also had one of Pope’s eight hits in the game.
“We’ve played five playoff games and four of them have come down to the last pitch,” Rowland said. “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I guess.
“Our top three guys (in the lineup) — Underwood, Keel and Lowe — we go as they go. Our team, overall, has been swinging the bats well. As we got the lead, we just played for whatever runs we could get. You can’t have enough of those at this time of the year.”
Bevil was 2-for-4 to lead Northgate, while Hundley batted 2-for-3.
Hundley also allowed four runs — three earned — on eight hits and struck out five in 5 2/3 innings.