State baseball semifinal matchups usually pit two teams, many times from opposite ends of the state, and some times for the first time.
But Wednesday's Class 1A public school state semifinal series in Chickamauga had more than just a little familiarity to it.
The teams were familiar with each other. The coaches were familiar with each other and even the fans were familiar with each other.
And the outcome also struck a familiar chord.
After sweeping Bowdon in their two regular season meetings this season, 6-1 and 14-2, Gordon Lee dispatched their long-time Region 6-A rival two more times at Claude Hendrix Field to punch their ticket to the state championship series for the second year in a row and the fourth time in the past six seasons.
The Trojans (26-8) will now await the winner of the series between Irwin County and Telfair County. Periodic rain in Irwin County allowed for only one game to be completed on Wednesday with Telfair winning, 8-5. Game 2 and possibly Game 3 will be played on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Gordon Lee will spend Thursday watching the scoreboard and making travel plans for Savannah as the championship series will be played at Grayson Stadium. A doubleheader is scheduled for Tuesday, May 22, with Game 3, if needed, the following day.
"It's nice to know we're going back," said senior Mason Pettigrew, who recorded the final out of the series on a catch in rightfield. "That was the worst feeling ever last year when we lost, but hopefully we can get it done this year. I think (the experience from last year) will help us a lot. It just makes us more motivated to come back and bring home the championship this year."
Gordon Lee 9, Bowdon 0
The Trojans wasted no time in taking the lead in Game 1. Austin Thompson led off the game with a double, which was followed by an RBI-double off the bat of Hunter Hodson. A second run would come home later in the inning, thanks in part to a Red Devil error.
Gordon Lee would blow it open just an inning later.
Justin Wooden and Pettigrew led off with back-to-back singles and a wild pitch would move the runners in scoring position. Thompson would plate a run on a groundout and Hodson walked and stole second to put ducks on the pond once again.
Dylan Minghini hit a high chopper deep in the hole at shortstop to bring in a run, but the throw the across the diamond pulled first baseman Trajan Brown off the bag as Hodson broke for third. Hodson would collide with Bowdon third baseman Trent Estes and was safe on the play as the ball trickled toward the Trojans' dugout, allowing Minghini to take second.
However, the ball would roll under the dugout netting and Hodson was awarded home plate as Minghini was allowed third base on the error. Caleb Hopkins drew a walk to put runners on the corners and Minghini would score on Chris Potter's sacrifice fly to center. J.D. Day would cap the inning with an RBI-double to plate Hopkins and increase the lead to 7-0, spelling the end of the night for Red Devils' starter Luke Rainwater.
The Trojans would put up solo runs each of the next two innings. Thompson delivered an RBI-single to score Wooden in the third and Hopkins mashed a solo home run to right in the fourth to cap the scoring.
Bowdon finally broke up Thompson's no-hit bid with a flare single to left in the fifth and a leadoff single in the top of the sixth was promptly erased by a nifty 6-4-3 double play.
Thompson would allow three walks and just the two hits as he struck out six in the complete-game victory. He was also the only Gordon Lee batter with multiple hits.
Rainwater was touched up for seven runs on seven hits and three walks in just two innings. He finished with two strikeouts in the loss.
Gordon Lee 5, Bowdon 3
Scoreless going into the top of the third inning, the Trojans - playing as the visiting team - got on the board on an RBI-single by Thompson, who took second base on the throw home. Thompson would go to third on a wild pitch and trotted home on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Hodson. Gordon Lee would go on to load the bases later in the inning, but failed to do any further damage.
Bowdon (25-11) would get one run back in the bottom half of the inning. Catcher Leighton Ivey hit a leadoff double off Gordon Lee starter Jake Poindexter, which was followed by a single from Kiler Cole. Ivey would score on a wild pitch moments later.
But the Red Devils would squander their chances for any more runs. After getting runners at the corners with one out, a baserunning blunder on what appeared to be an ill-timed double steal attempt resulted in Cole getting tagged out by Potter between third and home. Trojans' second baseman Will Sizemore then made a nice running catch of a pop fly in foul territory near the fence to leave the tying run stranded at second.
Gordon Lee would pick up three big insurance runs in the top of the fifth. Thompson led off the inning with a triple down the first-base line and would score on an RBI-single by Hodson who promptly stole second.
Two batters later, Hopkins was intentionally walked for the third time in the game and the move looked as if it would pay dividends as Potter hit a tailor-made double-play ball to shortstop. But after getting the force at second, the throw to first base sailed high, allowing Hodson to score on the error. One batter later, Day made Bowdon pay by roping a run-scoring double to center to make it 5-1.
Bowdon would get two runs back in the bottom of the sixth off Gordon Lee reliever Jake Wright, who came in at the start of the inning. Wright gave up two singles before Braden Bowen delivered a two-run double to right. However, Hopkins would make a nice leaping play to snare a line drive at first to help Gordon Lee get out of the inning.
There would be some drama in the bottom of the seventh as the Red Devils got the first two runners on against Hodson, the Gordon Lee closer. Hodson hit the first batter of the inning and issued a walk before getting an infield pop-up for out one.
Andrew Messer hit a ground ball between first and second base that clipped Cole on the foot. After a lengthy conference between the umpires, Cole was ruled out, much to the chagrin of the Bowdon coaches, who unsuccessfully argued that the ball had already gotten past Hopkins. Pettigrew would then haul in the final out to seal the win and the series.
Minghini had three hits, including two doubles, while Thompson also had two hits in the win.
Poindexter went five innings, allowing one earned run on five hits to get the victory. He struck out six and did not walk a batter. Hodson was credited with the save.
Estes took the loss for Bowdon. He pitched all seven innings, giving up five runs on seven hits and six walks with six strikeouts. Messer had two hits to pace the offense.
"All year long, Bowdon has come back in their games," Gordon Lee head coach Mike Dunfee said. "They've won games in the sixth or seventh inning, so after winning that first one (tonight), we knew they were going to fight and be ready to play. Anytime they have (Estes) on the mound, they're going to be confident and play well behind him.
"I know our kids were tired, but they kept fighting. All of our pitchers threw well. Hunter kind of struggled a little bit when he got in there, but he got calmed down. He needed that, though. He hasn't pitched in probably about a month, so we needed to get him some work in a high-intensity situation instead of just pitching to our guys in practice. He needed that because who knows what's going to happen down the road."
What the Trojans do know is that there are at least two, and possibly three more games to focus on as they search for the program's third state championship and its first since 1984.
"This is a fun bunch that has really come together," the coach added. "They're tight-knit and they really care about each other. But still, (the state championship) is a baseball game. No matter what the atmosphere is like down there, we just have to pound the zone, make plays defensively and have timely hitting. That's been the keys for us all year long.
"Our arms are fresh and ready to go. I know it's going to be a war no matter who comes out of the other side of the bracket. They will be there for a reason and because they're playing good baseball right now. But it's going to be fun for the kids and I just hope we can enjoy it."