Monkey off the back: Raiders clinch playoff berth with shutout over Lanier

It’s been a long time in the making. Habersham Central has been oh so close the past two seasons to making the state playoffs. Last season, it was the final game of the regular season that proved to be a gut-wrenching loss that kept them out.

Not anymore. For just the second time in school history, the Raiders will be in the playoffs. It’s the first time since 2006 for Habersham Central, and this season’s group has been as resilient as any we’ve seen suit up in the orange and blue.

For Chris Akridge’s group, it was determination that saw this group bounce back time after time from crushing blows this season. It’s not that much has gone wrong, as the team has 19 wins and a 7-7 record in the ever-tough 8-AAAAAA. But the Raiders have suffered some heartbreak in 2019, falling four times in extra innings and/or walkoff losses that put their playoff hopes in jeopardy.

That continued with a hard-to-swallow 3-1 loss to Lanier on Monday on the road, pulling their region record down to 6-7. With just two games remaining in the series and regular season, Habersham HAD to win one to clinch.

On Wednesday, Lanier came out swinging to the tune of seven hits, which bested Habersham by two. However, the Raiders made the most of the offense they mustered, breaking a scoreless tie in the bottom of the fourth. Not that they needed it, but the boys added a pair of insurance runs in the sixth to seal the 3-0 win.

Alex McFarlane led the way with a 2-for-3 night at the plate, both doubles, and scored twice. Peyton Irvin (1-for-3) and Colby Jones both recorded RBIs. Hogan Pitts and Logan Hare added the only other Habersham hits. But it was the pitching of McFarlane that stood out more than anything. A dominant complete game shutout, allowing seven hits and two walks while striking out six.

The win also snapped a four-game losing skid that started to push the Raiders to the brink of elimination for a playoff spot. Suddenly, the Raiders not only have a ticket punched, but with a win in the finale on Friday against Lanier, could secure the #2 spot in region. Currently, Winder Barrow stands atop the region at 14-0, while Hab Central and Dacula are 7-7, followed by Apalachee (6-8) and Lanier (5-9), with Gainesville (3-11) rounding out the region. A Habersham win over Lanier and a Dacula win over Apalachee would give the Raiders a home playoff series.

Habersham’s 19 wins is by far the best in over a decade, and only twice since 2010 have the Raiders finished above .500. They went 13-13 a year ago, 14-16 in 2017, and 4-22 in 2016.

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