SUWANEE — If timing is everything, as the saying goes, then it is particularly important in a playoff situation.
And Parkview came up with the right hit, play or pitch at the right time throughout its Class AAAAAAA state semifinal doubleheader with North Gwinnett.
Stephen Hrustich and Jonathan French were particularly at the right place at the right time, driving in a combined 10 runs, while Miles Garrett, Xander Stephens and Brad Stanley made enough good pitches to help the Panthers sweep the doubleheader with wins of 9-6 and 9-3 Wednesday at McDaniel Field.
Hrustich had a huge day, finishing the two games 4-for-7 with a home run and six RBIs, while French was 2-for-4 with a homer, four RBIs and three walks, two intentional, as Parkview (34-4) rolled into the state finals, where they will meet Hillgrove in a best-of-three series beginning with a doubleheader Monday at SunTrust Park.
“It’s amazing,” said French, who upped his Gwinnett-leading RBI total to 58 on the season. “That feeling when you hit the ball and it goes over (the fence), you’re just watching it and then you see the crowd going crazy. This whole atmosphere, it’s wild.”
French added to that atmosphere with his tape-measure, two-run homer at near treetop level beyond the left-center field wall in the top of the third of the opener, but it was Hrustich who really set the tone with his solo homer to right-center off North (31-8) starter Brandt Pancer that led off the second and gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead.
“We knew there would be (situations where there was) a base open that (North) would try to stay away from French,” Parkview coach Chan Brown said. “So we put pressure on Stephen and told him and the bottom of the order, ‘You’ve got to come through when we need it.’”
After the French homer made it 4-0 in the third, Parkview played a little small ball to score three more runs in the fourth, two of which came on successful squeeze bunts by Jonathan Ponder and Makenzie Pate to push its lead to 7-0.
Despite two runs on Jarrett Burney’s double in bottom of the fourth that got North on the board, Miles Garrett (7-0) was cruising with a 9-2 lead after RBI singles from French and Hrustich in the top of the sixth.
But in the bottom of the inning Will Bennett led off with a walk and came home on Josh Shuler’s two-run homer to right-center, which combined with a walk to Jayden Perrine spelled the end of the his night with the lead cut to 9-4.
The Bulldogs put up another run when Perrine scored on the back end of a double steal attempt later in the inning, but French cut down the front end when Burney got caught in a run down between first and second, and Brad Stanley got out of the inning without further damage with a 9-5 lead.
The right-handed sidewinder then pitched around Corey Collins’ RBI double in the bottom of the seventh close out the Game 1 victory for Parkview.
In the nightcap, both teams struck early, with Hrustich’s two-run single in the bottom of the first giving the Panthers a 2-0 lead, and North answering by taking advantage of an error in the top of the second to cut the lead in half at 2-1.
From there Stephens and Bulldogs right-hander Alex Ha, who came on in relief of sophomore Coulson Buchanan in the bottom of the second and got out of a jam with the help of a double play off a missed squeeze attempt, settled into a pitchers duel for the next three innings.
The turning point came in the bottom of the fifth, when Ponder led off with an infield single and went around to third on Allan Del Castillo’s double.
After Ha got Makenzie Pate to bounce to third and hold the runners for the first out of the inning, North elected to try the exact scenario Brown had described by walking French to load the bases for Hrustich.
And the senior first baseman delivered with a single to left-center that scored two more runs and gave Parkview some breathing room at 4-1.
“(Being insulted of having an intentional walk to the batter before) is not really my mindset,” Hrustich said. “I just do my job and help my teammates and thank them for putting me in that position (to drive in runs). … In that situation, you’ve just got to battle more. It’s a big game, and all you’ve got to do is just do your job. That’s what Coach Brown preaches all the time. Everyone does their job. That’s why we came out on top.”
Stephens’ (9-1) job was done after five-plus innings, during which he gave up just five hits and one unearned run with four strikeouts, after he issued a walk to Shuler to lead off the sixth.
But Stanley came on for the second straight game and made sure the Parkview lead would stay at three runs by striking out the side.
‘I did prepare a little more in the bullpen (in Game 2),” Stanley said. “I was just in that moment. I’ve just got to look at French (behind the plate), take a deep breath and make good pitches.”
The Panthers gave Stanley even more reason to breathe easier by erupting for five more runs in the bottom of the sixth, including a sacrifice fly by French and a pair of two-run singles by Daylon Carleton and Max Pate to break the game wide open at 9-1.
Collins pulled North a little closer in the top of the seventh with his Gwinnett-leading 16th homer of the season, a two-run shot to the opposite field in left-center that made the score 9-3.
But it was too little, too late for the Bulldogs.
“To be honest with you, I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Parkview,” North coach Ryan Moity said. “They made pitches when they had to, they hit the ball with runners on (base). They made plays (in the field) when they had to. We had some chances here and there, but when it came down to it (Wednesday) night, they were just better than us.
“We’re going to lose a couple of (seniors), and we’re going to have some guys come back (next year). For this senior class, they were really talented and they did a lot for us. We had six guys in our lineup every day that were seniors, but it’s what they brought to our program off the field — the culture in the locker room and just the way they went about the hard work they put in, the way they played hard for each other. That’s what we’re going to miss the most.”