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STILL IN THE GAME: Phil Campbell advances to state semifinals

As Trey Leindecker’s walk-off single landed in left field, Phil Campbell’s Coach Jonathan Raper looked to the sky and said, “We’re almost there.”

Raper, whose father Billy passed away at the beginning of baseball season, struggled to hold back the tears, knowing his team was getting closer to playing for something his dad won twice – a state championship.

“I wish he could be here to see the way the guys are battling,” said Raper. “He would be so proud. I know he’s in heaven watching us.”

Billy Raper won two state titles in the 1980s as the girls’ basketball coach at Phillips High School. His son’s team still has work to do, as the Bobcats will travel to Piedmont to play Wednesday in the state semifinals.

“I don’t know much about (Piedmont) yet,” said Raper. “I never look ahead. I will start working on that tonight. I do know they will be good. You don’t get this far by chance.”

After Thursday night’s game two performance, things weren’t looking too good for Phil Campbell. The Bobcats, fresh off a game one win versus the Winfield Pirates, committed six errors and found themselves facing a game three – and possibly elimination.

“We didn’t play well yesterday (Thursday) at all, even in the game we won,” Raper said. “We made too many errors, routine stuff. We came out and practiced a little before the game today.”

There were no problems in game three. The Bobcats executed offensively up and down the lineup, and sophomore pitcher Ridge Raper was almost untouchable.

Raper pitched a complete game, striking out 12 Winfield batters, allowing five hits and one earned run – a homerun to deep left-centerfield. Raper also led the Bobcats at the plate with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs scored.

“This team is gritty,” said Ridge Raper. “We knew we were going to have to bring it today, and we did. This team never quits.”

Phil Campbell racked up 13 hits on the day, most of which were hard-hit balls into the outfield.

After the second inning, the game never really seemed in doubt. The atmosphere of the two dugouts were contrasts that mirrored the game.

Phil Campbell scored two in the first inning and two in the second to take a 4-0 lead. Winfield cut the lead to one in the top of the fourth, but the Bobcats scored three in the bottom half of the inning to take a 7-1 lead.

Phil Campbell would score two more in the fifth and two in the sixth.

Mason Swinney had three hits. Rilan Garrison and Leindecker had two hits each. Nate Ownes and Cole Motes scored two runs each. Austen Baker had two RBIs.

Phil Campbell won game one of the series 6-5 and lost game two 7-2.

Raper drove in four runs in those two games, including a three-run home run in the opening game. Owens earned the win in game one, allowing seven hits and striking out seven.

In the opening game, Winfield took a 1-0 lead on a wild pitch. Raper’s three-run homer to right field gave the Bobcats a 3-1 lead, and Phil Campbell scored a run in the fourth inning on an RBI-single by Leindecker. The Bobcats would add two more runs to take a 6-3 lead.

Winfield attempted a comeback, but Baker came in to shut down the Pirates.

In game two, Phil Campbell took a quick 2-0 lead before Winfield scored seven unanswered runs, mostly because of Bobcat fielding errors.