ROME -- A brilliant outing on the mound from Griffin Holcombe in Game 1, a game Heritage ran away with in the middle innings, 7-2, put the Patriots in the drivers' seat heading in Game 2 of the Class AAAAAA state championship series against Pope.
With a chance to close the series out in Game 2, the Greyhounds answered back, plating 11 runs over six innings to force a winner-take-all Game 3 Thursday evening at State Mutual Stadium in Rome.
The Patriots mustered only three hits and one run in the nightcap, due in large part to the performance from Pope's Gage Vailes, who threw all six innings.
In the Patriots' five playoff series, Thursday will mark its third Game 3. For Pope, it will mark their fifth.
"(Pope) is good," Heritage head coach Shane Ramsey said. "(Vailes) was extremely good. They got some rhythm early and got some momentum. We just never seemed to catch any traction. We did the same thing last week. We didn't play very well in Game 2 and bounced back in Game 3. So I don't see why that will be any different. It's over tomorrow, regardless. We're going to come out and compete and I expect us to be better tomorrow."
Holcombe bucked a slow start to his outing - one that saw the senior allow two runs on three hits in the first inning - finishing his last six scattering only three hits without allowing another run. Holcombe's six straight scoreless innings to end the game featured four strikeouts with two coming in the sixth.
After leaving five runners on base in the first two innings, the Patriots' offense broke through with one run in the third and four in the fourth to take a commanding 5-2 lead.
Nick Watson-Garcia cut the Greyhounds' lead in half after coming around to score on a Calabria Atkins liner into left. Watson-Garcia led off the third with a stand-up double.
Two quick outs from Pope Game 1 starter Reid Robertson in the fourth was followed up with Christian Davis reaching first after being hit by a pitch and Watson-Garcia earning a 4-pitch walk.
With catcher Ray Joseph due up to bat, Robertson was pulled for reliever Cullen Orr.
Joseph, who struck out in first two at-bats against Robertson, promptly served a liner to right that knotted the game at 2-2.
Facing a 1-2 count with runners on the corners, Darryl Buggs cleared the bases with a triple to left-center, scoring Watson-Garcia and pinch runner Jan'i Belcher with ease. The hit extended Buggs' hit streak to 14 games.
Buggs later came home to score on a wild pitch, extending the Patriots' lead to 5-2 before Orr hit both Atkins and Henry Clay in back-to-back plate appearances, ending his afternoon without recording an out.
The Patriots' extended their lead to 6-2 in the fifth with a sac fly to right off the bat of Davis that scored Nolan Woodward. Davis later gave the Patriots a 7-2 lead with a single to center that scored Woodward.
The seven unanswered runs scored by the Patriots was more than enough to help Holcombe to his 10th win of the season. The senior finished with a 6-hit complete game victory on 99 pitches.
"Griffin was great," Ramsey said. "Once he settled in, we saw what we could do with him on the mound against Pope. We were able to keep them off balance. We just weren't able to do that in Game 2."
Watson-Garcia took the mound for the Patriots in Game 2 and was pulled after tossing 1 1/3 innings. The senior was roughed up for six runs (four earned) on six hits.
Pope grabbed a 5-0 lead in the second thanks to a bases-clearing double off the bat of Buddy Floyd.
Buggs relieved Watson-Garcia and tossed 1 2/3 of 1-hit, three run ball. All three runs were unearned following two third-inning errors by the Patriot defense.
After three innings, the Greyhounds led the Patriots 9-0.
After 41 pitches on the mound, Buggs was pulled for Jason Allwood, who tossed the finaal three innings for the Patriots, allowing two runs on three hits.
"(Pope) scored early in both games," Ramsey said. "Once we got some momentum, we could score some runs. So we've got to get off to an early start tomorrow."
Pope's projected Game 1 starter, Max Pralgo, did not pitch in either game for the Greyhounds. Vailes, who struck out seven Patriots, tossed 76 pitches, leaving the senior with 44 to work with going into Thursday's Game 3.