Billingsley reaches baseball final four for second time in school history

Published 1:49 pm Friday, May 5, 2023

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By Carey Reeder | Staff Writer

In 2015, Billingsley High School made their first AHSAA Class 1A baseball final four and fell to Brantley High School. Now, the 2023 Billingsley baseball team will try to avenge the 2015 team after defeating Leroy High School in three games on May 3-4 to set up a state semifinal matchup with Brantley eight years in the making.

“It is just awesome, and I am really proud of the guys,” Billingsley coach Jeffrey Alexander said. “We started back last summer with workouts, and I told them if they wanted to go deep in the playoffs and win a championship, it starts here. They made a commitment to start then, and it has paid off for them.”

After Kyle Boice and Mason Truesdale controlled the mound in games one and two, it was Landon Jones and Eli Manning who locked the Bears’ semifinal spot up in game three. After a shaky outing in game two, Jones bounced back throwing five innings in game three giving up three hits, three runs and striking out six Leroy hitters. Jones left the game to Eli Manning with a 6-3 lead. Eli Manning threw the last two innings without surrendering a hit or run to send Billingsley to the final four.

The Bears jumped on Leroy early with three runs in the first inning, helped by an RBI double from Hunter Wyatt. Marshall Headley and Jones each had an RBI double later in the game that stretched the Bears’ lead out and put away the game.

Alexander said he was thrilled with the Billingsley fans’ support during the series, especially in game three where tens of Bears fans made the two-hour-and-30-minute drive.

The Bears controlled 13 of the 14 innings over Leroy in the first two games of the series including a 5-1 win in game one on May 3. Jason Smith put Billingsley on the board first with an RBI single in the second inning that scored Nathan Gilmore after an earlier walk.

Truesdale showed why he was chosen as Billingsley’s game one starter with seven solid innings of four-hit baseball giving up just one run and striking out five Leroy hitters. Two of Leroy’s hits came to start the second innings, but no runs were scored. Truesdale gave up just two hits from then on with just one producing a run — an RBI double in the third and a double in the fifth inning.

“He pitched lights out,” Alexander said. “For your starter to go all seven innings and close the game out for you, that is what you want. He was able to get ahead in counts, pitch to contact … He was really focused in.”

Billingsley scored two more runs in the third inning after a wild pitch and balk by the Leroy pitcher, and then a dropped third strike by the catcher. After Leroy scored their lone run on the RBI double in the third innings, the Bears’ Hunter Wyatt got it right back with an RBI single to score Shane Shirah. Wyatt had two RBIs.

The Bears gave Truesdale another insurance run in the fifth inning, and he handled the rest. He did contribute two hits at the plate, as did Jones and Hudson Manning. Billingsley won with no extra base hits, but capitalized on seven walks.

In game two, the Bears controlled the game again with Boice on the mound. Boice held the game scoreless until the fourth inning when Hudson Manning knocked a two-run single to make it 2-0. They added to their lead with a Gilmore RBI single in the fifth inning, and an RBI single from Boice to make it 4-1 after Leroy got a run back. Boice went five and two-third innings and gave up three hits, one unearned run and struck out 12 Leroy hitters.

Leroy came to the plate with three outs left in their season and down 4-1. They staved off elimination, scoring seven runs in the inning, spurred by a grand slam to put them ahead 6-4 before winning 8-4.

“I talked to the guys after game two that 13 of the 14 innings we dominated Leroy, and baseball is a funny sport,” Alexander said. “It will sneak up on you when you are at your highest and bring you down to the lowest. It was a tough loss, but it never rattled them. They knew they were the better team, and they knew coming back the next day that game three was going to be ours.”

Billingsley outhit Leroy 12-5, and both Jones and Hudson Manning contributed three hits.

Billingsley travels to Brantley on May 10 for game one of the three-game series at 4:30 p.m., and game two will follow after.  If needed, game three will be on May 11 at 5 p.m.