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Baseball: Pinecrest splits quarterfinal doubleheader with Holy Innocents

ATLANTA — The Pinecrest baseball team is in a situation that is both totally unprecedented and highly familiar. 

On Tuesday, in the opening doubleheader of their third-round Class 1A-Private state playoff series against Holy Innocents, the Paladins won the first game, 8-4, and lost the second, 8-5. That same thing — albeit with different scores — happened in the first round against Stratford Academy, and in the second round against Hebron Christian. Those series were played on the road, too.

"I'm positive, in the sense that we've been here before, plenty times now," Pinecrest head coach Ryan Weingart said. "So we know how to come back and get it done."

Weingart was overstating things a bit, as the Paladins are making just their second playoff appearance as a program, and they were knocked out in the first round in 2017. This current team, though, has proven itself in three-game series. 

The Paladins have also proven that they can hit exceptionally well, and the five home runs they socked as a team on Wednesday — two in the first game and three in the second — was additional proof there. If there was anything different they saw from the Bears, it was that senior Will Patota actually got pitches to hit. 

The Southern Union State signee and potential MLB Draft pick had seen mostly junk and balls out of the strike zone in the games leading up to Wednesday, but Holy Innocents gave him fastballs, and put them in the zone. 

Patota responded in a way that affirmed why other teams have been so reluctant to pitch to him. In the first game, he drove in the Paladins' first run with an RBI single and hit a two-run home run into the trees beyond the center-field fence. In the second game, Patota had two more home runs: a thunderous two-run shot to right that hit a truck in the parking lot, and another two-run blast to almost the exact spot as his first. 

"I think them actually pitching to me caught me off guard the first few at-bats," Patota said. "But then I got the hang of it and just did what I do."

Neither Weingart nor Patota said they would be surprised to see a more cautious approach on Thursday — to an extent. 

"I don't expect them to just give him free passes, either," Weingart said. "They're not that kind of team."

Pinecrest had Patrick O'Rourke and Joe Garcia start games on Wednesday. The Paladins didn't used Caleb Bohn, who threw seven innings against Stratford, or Brooks Binkley, who threw six against Hebron. The third game of the series is scheduled for a 5 p.m. start on Thursday, and Pinecrest, which won the coin toss, will be the home team.