LEWISTON, Idaho — Georgia Gwinnett coach Brad Stromdahl has preached the motto all year — “Play where your feet are.”
It means the Grizzlies shouldn’t dwell on past mistakes or triumphs. They shouldn’t concern themselves with what might transpire down the line either.
In the first round of the Avista NAIA World Series on a soggy Friday afternoon, GGC’s Brody Wofford embodied it. He certainly played where his feet were.
Breaking what looked to be a low-scoring pitchers’ duel through four frames, Wofford, a Rome native and former Model High School player, clobbered a 415-foot grand slam, the deciding factor in the Grizzlies’ 6-3 win over powerhouse Faulkner at Harris Field, which broke the Eagles’ six-year streak of first-round Series wins.
“If he doesn’t hit that home run, it’s a completely different game. ... That’s what it came down to,” Stromdahl said.
“You gotta live in the moment.”
It’s what the Grizzlies (47-11) did after often threatening but ultimately getting blanked in four innings by Faulkner ace Evan Gillespie, who entered 11-0 with a 1.35 ERA.
But in the fifth, GGC loaded the bases — with two outs — on patient at-bats. Wofford worked it full, then skied a Gillespie fastball to deep center field.
“Gillespie’s unbelievable,” Stromdahl said. “We were able to work some pitch counts and Brody hit a hard ball; fortunately, it was over the plate.”
Wofford, calculated it. He’d seen a sundry of sliders away, so once he had a 3-2 count, “I knew he wasn’t gonna try to get me to chase. “I knew he’d give me a fastball, and God bless, I got it up,” he said.
“It was a good feeling,” Wofford added. “It wasn’t in the top of the ninth or anything, but it was still big, and it kind of buried them. It felt good for me and my team.”
It wasn’t the first time Wofford has come up big for his team. In the final game of the NAIA Opening Round Lawrenceville Bracket, Wofford sent one over the right-field fence to cap a rally in a 2-1 victory that sent the team to the World Series.
The Grizzlies are in the NAIA World Series for the second straight year.
“It’s a good feeling, getting to go back,” Wofford said. “It doesn’t matter at what level you’re at, to get to go to a World Series, there’s nothing like it.”
Wofford’s no stranger to success. After playing his first year of college ball at LSU, Wofford and his Chipola College teammates were crowned 2017 NJCAA Division I Baseball World Series champions after he knocked a two-run homer that sealed the win.
Brody’s father Todd Wofford said his son’s goal has always been to play in the big leagues, but right now he’s focused on winning a national championship for his team.
“I hope he gets a shot again this year,” Todd Wofford said. “That’s what he wants to do. That’s all he’s ever wanted to do. But right now that’s on the back burner. He’s locked in on trying to win a national championship. That’s all he’s really thinking about.”
The grand slam ended Gillespie’s outing and forced Faulkner (42-11) to dig into the bullpen, another of GGC’s aims entering the tournament.
Two innings later, Onassis Mato blooped a floater into left field to plate two more Griz. Two hits accounted for all GGC RBI.
Faulkner consistently got batters to reach, but couldn’t get that comeback knock to alter the tide.
Two of its three runs came via solo shots by Max Guzman and Jacob Freeland. The other was a fielder’s choice.
“We didn’t put many guys on for free, and if you win free baseball, you’d like to think you have a chance to win the game,” Stromdahl said.
GGC reliever Matthew Swain entered in the eighth and earned a save after working out of a couple of jams, including in the bottom of the ninth, when the Eagles put two on with one gone.
GGC will play either eighth-seeded Indiana Tech or top seed Tennessee Wesleyan on Monday.
“I actually had a recent outing like this in the Opening Round,” said Swain, who struck out three in 1⅓ innings. “We take it play-by-play, no pressure. Our execution is strike one. If we get strike one, we can win the battle.”
Grizzly starter Pedro Garcia’s mentality was parallel, Stromdahl noted. It equated to a 6⅔-inning, 11-strikeout day in which he permitted seven hits, a walk and two runs.
He implemented a heater of a fastball and well-located curve, opening the bout with consecutive 1-2-3 frames.
Garcia only tossed eight pitches in the second and proceeded to punch out Eagles and snuff out would-be rallies with men in scoring position.
It enabled the Grizzlies — who stranded 12 — to bide their time and take the offense as it came.
“He gave us so much; he’s the heart and soul of our pitching staff,” Stromdahl said. “It was his heart, his desire to win. That’s why he’s pitching on Friday.”
“We wanted to lean on our pitcher early — we knew Pedro was gonna give us a chance,” added Wofford.
For Gillespie, it wasn’t quite as fast a start. He walked — and plunked — the bases loaded in the first, but escaped, then settled down in the second through fourth.
Offensively, GGC’s Alex Garland provided a spark with a 4-for-5, two-double day. Cam Coursey, who entered batting .462, had two knocks (one double).
“We stuck to our game plan, grinding out at-bats, working pitch counts (seven walks) and doing all the little things,” Stromdahl said.
Jonathan Villa and Te’kwaan Whyte slapped two apiece for a Faulkner attack that had its moments, but toiled in bringing runners home while the bullpen did its job.