MACON -- A hero was born from the most unlikely of places Saturday.
Deerfield-Windsor sophomore Sam Shellhaas, who started the year on the "B Team" before being called up to varsity midway through the season, had one clutch hit after another in Saturday's GISA Class AAA Final Four Game 2 between the Knights and host Tattnall Square.
He drove in Deerfield's first run in the fourth inning and then gave the Knights a 3-2 lead with an RBI double in the sixth inning. But it was his seventh-inning at bat that may have cemented his place in DWS lore.
With two outs and the bases loaded in a tie game, Shellhaas -- who didn't even play in Friday's Game 1 -- stepped up to the plate with confidence uncanny for his youthfulness.
He then smacked a ground ball up the middle that scored Chris Moates, issuing in a DWS celebration that was years in the making.
"Never, never, never (did I envision this) ... especially against Tattnall," said Shellhaas, recalling that the Trojans had knocked DWS out of the playoffs the past three seasons. "This is special. It's a special feeling."
Shellhaas' third RBI of the game, which gave the Knights a 5-4 win and punched their ticket to next weekend's Class AAA state championship against Westfield, wouldn't have been possible without teammate Michael Laslie's hustle on the base path.
Shellhaas' groundball was snagged by Tattnall shortstop Tyler
Thompson, who hesitated briefly before deciding to attempt to step on second base for a force out that would have sent the game into extra innings.
"There seemed to be a little bit of indecision there," Tattnall coach Joey Hiller said about the game's final play. "Baseball is a game of inches, and that little hesitation was why they were safe at second."
The hesitation gave Laslie just enough time to win the foot race to second base, giving DWS its first state championship appearance since 2008.
"I thought, 'He's not going to beat me to second base,' " Laslie said. "No one was going to beat me to second base in that moment. You've got to win that. You've got to get there."
Laslie got there, if only by the slimmest of margins, and his celebratory teammates weren't far behind.
"Once I got to first, I looked over and the umpire called (Laslie) safe," Shellhaas said. "Laslie put his arms up, and then everybody started screaming. Then I kind of got tackled by my teammates. It was a blur, and then I woke up. Everybody was crying and celebrating."
Crying, celebrating, hugging, smiling. And somewhere in the swarm of red jerseys was Shellhaas, who only got the start in right field because Rhett Cooper, Deerfield's usual right fielder, was on the mound.
Shellhaas was called up to varsity midway through the season after a rash of injuries plagued the Knights' outfield. The sophomore started around six games before the injured starters began to get healthy enough to re-enter the lineup. Shellhaas became a role player -- a position where he fit in perfectly.
"As a staff, we have known Sam was going to be a nice player," Deerfield coach Rod Murray said. "So this didn't completely shock us. We had known for a while from last year and how he started this year on the B Team. Anytime anybody says somebody is going to get you to the finals, you don't care who it is. You are just happy to get there."
Tattnall was looking to get back to the Class AAA championship, which it lost last year to First Presbyterian. The Trojans won state titles in 2009, 2008, 2005, 2001 and 2000.
Deerfield's last state finals appearances were in 2008 and 2005, and both times the Knights lost to Tattnall. Deerfield's most recent state championship came in 2003.
Tattnall lit up the scoreboard first Saturday with two runs in the third inning. DWS reached base in each of the first three innings, but runners were left stranded in each frame.
After Shellhaas' fourth-inning RBI single brought the Knights to within one run, Chris Moates hit a solo home run -- his eighth of the year -- to left field to tie the game. Shellhaas then gave Deerfield its first lead with an RBI double in the sixth inning that scored Matt Moree.
The Knights took that 3-2 advantage into the top of the seventh inning, which is when Tattnall scored a pair of two-out runs to stay alive in the series. Before the bottom of the seventh inning started, Murray huddled his team together in front of his dugout and told them to find a way to manufacture base runners and a run.
"We weren't going to give up," Murray said. "We were going to stay in the fight, and that's what we have preached all season long."
Banks Kinslow opened up the frame with a single, then Moates followed Kinslow's hit by reaching base on one of Tattnall's six errors in the game. A Davis Moore intentional walk then loaded the bases with no outs for Cooper, who went the distance and had six strikeouts on the mound for Deerfield.
Cooper grounded into a fielder's choice that scored Kinslow and guaranteed at least an extra-inning game. Laslie was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out for Moree, who struck out looking, bringing up Shellhaas with the bases loaded and two outs to set up the sophomore's heroics.
The Class AAA state championship series will begin Friday and will be played at Westfield, which has beaten the Knights twice this year, edging out Deerfield for the Region 3-AAA title with a pair of one-run victories in the regular season.