After a split in a dramatic doubleheader on Wednesday, the Gordon Lee Trojans traveled to Alpharetta on Thursday to face King’s Ridge Christian in the third and all-important final game to determine the 2017 Region 6-A champion.
And the game turned out to be everything fans expected it to be.
Gordon Lee exploded out of the gates, leading 7-0 and 9-1, only to have to hold on for dear life in the late innings before finally posting a 10-9 victory to secure the Trojans’ second straight region title.
King’s Ridge would get back in the game with a six-run frame in the fourth and they would bring the potential winning run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh before the Trojans could finally slam the door.
“I knew we’d be in for a war,” Gordon Lee head coach Mike Dunfee said. “Our guys were tired, but still found a way to get it done. Winning a region title is a great honor, especially this region, which is arguably one of the toughest in the state.
“Our kids really deserved this. We’ve been battling injuries and things all year long, but we say we’re 19 deep for a reason. This is one of the grittiest teams I’ve ever coached. They are all heart and guts and they’ll fight you from the first pitch to the last one. It’s just fun to watch them and fun to coach a bunch of guys that really get behind each other.”
The first 10 batters for Gordon Lee reached base against Tigers’ starter Alex Armstrong, who was replaced by Carter Buchanan before recording a single out. Kobie Cowan led off with a double, Noah Peterson had a two-run double and Caleb Hopkins also doubled in a run. Drew McDaniel later added a two-run single before a double play and a strikeout finally ended the seven-run eruption.
Gordon Lee (22-5) added to their lead in the fourth on a two-run triple by Hopkins to make it 9-1, but King’s Ridge (18-8) would show their championship mettle by scoring six runs in the bottom of the fourth on five hits, a pair of walks and a hit batsman. Another solo run in the fifth would cut the Trojans’ lead to 9-8.
A Dylan Minghini RBI-double in the sixth would push the lead back to two and the Trojans would take the 10-8 advantage into the bottom of the seventh.
Things would start getting dicey for Gordon Lee as Hayden Milling hit a one-out double and later scored on the fourth error of the game by the Trojans. Tanner Wakefield was then hit by a pitch to put the tying run on base and bring the winning run to the plate.
Hunter Hodson entered the game, looking to close it out on the mound and induced a ground ball off the bat of John Byrnes as Gordon Lee got a force out at second on the fielder’s choice. One final ground ball out would end the game one batter later.
Austin Thompson started the game for Gordon Lee and went 3 2/3 innings to the get the victory, allowing six earned runs on seven hits with two walks and four strikeouts. Hodson, the fourth pitcher used by Gordon Lee, recorded the save.
Armstrong took the loss, giving up five earned on six hits in the first. Buchanan threw seven total innings, allowing four earned runs on nine hits with three walks and two strikeouts.
Cowan was 3-for-5 with an RBI, while Minghini went 3-for-4 with two doubles and drove in two more runs to give him nine for the three-game series. Hopkins had two hits and three RBIs. Peterson was 2-for-4 with two runs driven in and Hodson had a 2-for-4 day.
As of Friday morning, Gordon Lee still sat in the No. 2 spot in the Class A Public School power rankings, but by less than a quarter-point behind Schley County and more than a full point ahead of Lanier County.
The top two teams in the power rankings, following release of the final numbers and any appeals, will have homefield advantage through the state semifinals. The state championship series will be played at a neutral site this season, either Rome or Savannah.
Region champions also go to the top of the Class A playoff brackets in order of their power rankings. The top eight seeds in both the Public School and Private School brackets will receive first-round byes in the state tournament, meaning Gordon Lee’s playoff opener will not be until May 4.
However, Dunfee said the break is coming at a good time for his team.
“This gives us a chance to rest some guys and get them healthy for the playoffs,” he added. “We’ll probably have 8-10 practices with a couple of days off as we wait to see who we’ll play.
“The big thing though is getting to stay at home and having everyone make that long drive up here to play us. We get to sleep in our own beds too, so having homefield is a big advantage for a lot of reasons.”