Everything changed, however, in the seventh.
Trailing 3-1, the Mustangs’ batters were finally able to connect off Blue Devils starter Deviner McCray, scoring three runs in the bottom of the inning to cap a 4-3 victory.
The momentum continued in the nightcap, with Kennesaw Mountain jumping out to a 14-1 lead through three innings before settling on a 15-1 five-inning victory to clinch the best-of-three series.
Patrick Martin’s pinch-hit, walk-off RBI single proved to be the difference in Game 1, while Reggie Pruitt’s 4-for-4 performance sparked the Mustangs in Game 2.
Region 4AAAAAA champion Kennesaw Mountain (22-6) advanced to the quarterfinals. It will travel to Region 5AAAAAA champion Milton in a best-of-three series beginning Tuesday.
The Mustangs are in the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.
“Momentum, that’s what it was,” Kennesaw Mountain coach George Hansen said. “We were down (in the first game), but we were loose. We didn’t have a doubt that we’d do something, and it cascaded.”
Region 1AAAAAA runner-up Tift County (23-6-1) saw its season come to an end.
Tift took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second, off Jonah Reyes’ two-out RBI single, but Alex Darwiche’s RBI single in the bottom half knotted the contest at 1-all.
Tift added one run in the third behind Alex Abbott’s two-out RBI single, and another in the fourth off Zeke Dodson’s RBI groundout.
After giving up the RBI to Darwiche, who batted 2-for-3, McCray cruised through the next four innings, allowing only one hit. He induced a groundout to lead off the top of the seventh, but Zack Goodman sparked a string of six consecutive batters reaching safely, leading to the come-from-behind win.
Pruitt, who batted 2-for-4 and scored a run, followed with a single, putting runners on first and second. A balk moved Goodman and Pruitt ahead one base, and Michael Atkinson’s single plated Goodman to trim the deficit to 3-2.
An intentional walk to Tyler Stephenson loaded the bases, and Zach Teem’s walk forced in Pruitt to knot the contest at 3-all, leading to Martin’s game-winner.
Kennesaw Mountain’s sudden offense continued in the nightcap.
The Mustangs scored three runs in the first, five in the second and six more in the third to stake their 14-1 lead. They finished with 12 hits — including five for extra bases — and collected 13 free passes off walks, wild pitches and a hit batsman.
Pruitt, who went 4-for-4 with a triple, two doubles, a RBI and three runs scored, fell inches shy of hitting for the cycle when his final at-bat bounced off the wall in the left field. He settled for a double.
“I knew I was a hit away from the cycle, but I wasn’t focusing on a home run,” said Pruitt, who turned 17 Wednesday. “I just wanted to make solid contact.
“It’s awesome to play playoff baseball on your birthday, and even better to get the sweep. We never gave up on each other and tried our best to get it done. I’m glad I was able to help the team, and I was lucky to get a hold of a few pitches and get around the bases and stay within myself.”
Atkinson was 1-for-4 with two RBIs and three runs scored, Stephenson had a hit and an RBI and Teem batted 1-for-2 with two RBIs, two runs scored and walked twice. Darwiche had two RBIs, Garrett Blinkhorn batted 2-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs, Cole Buffington had an RBI and Matt Cole scored twice and walked twice. Hampton Clark scored three times.
Tift County used four pitchers in Game 2.
Chase Slone allowed one earned run off five hits and struck out four in four innings to get the victory for Kennesaw Mountain. Zack Goodman pitched a flawless fifth.
Zack Chandler won Game 1 in relief after striking out two in three scoreless innings. Starter Ryley Gilliam also pitched well, giving up only three earned runs on six hits in four innings.